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‘Deadly game of hide and seek’ over poorly-signposted defibrillators

Experts warned that two thirds of automated external defibrillators in the UK have no signage at their locations.

17 October 2022

The public are being left playing a “deadly game of hide and seek” because of a lack of signage for life-saving defibrillators, according to a leading resuscitation expert.

Professor Charles Deakin, divisional medical director at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS), has warned that two-thirds of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the UK have no signage at their locations and few have any guidance directing people to them.

He has now helped develop new international guidelines setting out a standard protocol for adequate signage and illumination to improve public access.

Prof Deakin said: “Early defibrillation is a critical link in the chain of survival for those who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital and ensuring rapid location of public access AEDs decreases the time it takes to deliver the first shock and ultimately improves survival.

“However, when we assessed the quality of public AED signage in Hampshire, we found this to be extremely poor, limiting the effectiveness of the devices and leaving the public playing a deadly game of hide and seek, wasting valuable seconds in bringing life-saving treatment to the patient.

“This is reflective of the picture not just in the rest of the UK, but also many other countries including the US and is one of the reasons that survival from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest remains so poor.”

A SCAS spokesman said: “Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body.

“Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillators – devices which deliver an electric current to shock the heart muscle – enable anyone to provide immediate assistance to people prior to the arrival of emergency services.

“Emergency services attempt or continue resuscitation in around 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) in the UK every year but just one in 10 people survive to hospital discharge.

“A person’s chances of survival decrease by up to 10% for every minute without CPR or access to a defibrillator, so rapid action from members of the public is vital.”

The new recommended signage, as published in the journal Circulation, state that the lettering should be a sufficient size to be seen from a distance of at least 50 metres (12cm in height) and the AED cabinet should, whenever possible, be illuminated at night and made of photoluminescent material.

SCAS has also created a smartphone app call Save a Life which provides a step-by-step guide to CPR and also provides GPS navigation to AEDs in the counties covered by the service – Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

A nationwide database is also provided by the British Heart Foundation at www.defibfinder.uk

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