Boards shun call for heart machines in public places

AN ACTION plan by the Scottish Government asking the NHS to investigate putting life-saving, heart-treatment equipment in public places has led to only one machine being introduced, The Scotsman understands.

In June 2009, ministers outlined evidence backing the placing of defibrillators in busy public places such as stations and shopping centres to treat people in cardiac arrest.

The report asked health boards to investigate whether such equipment could be used in their areas and, if so, to introduce it by the end of March this year.

But inquiries by The Scotsman suggest little has happened.

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Some boards said equipment had been in place before the plan, often paid for by charities or private companies, but others said they had not even discussed the issue.

Other boards that had considered the matter said introducing defibrillators in public places was "not a priority" – perhaps reflecting the financial restraints being faced by the NHS.

The Scottish Government said it would check on the progress of its action plan next month.

• Peter Weissberg: Defibrillators - A cheap and easy way of keeping people alive

In 2000, the Department of Health in England funded 680 defibrillators to be placed in airports, railway stations and large shopping centres. More have been placed since.

Last year, the Better Heart Disease and Stroke Care Action Plan, launched by health secretary Nicola Sturgeon, said reports on the strategy in England found it was "very effective" when static defibrillators were put in places where lots of people gathered.

It suggested the cost of putting defibrillators in public places would be about 20,000 per life saved.

As a result, the plan said boards should seek advice from their cardiac managed clinical networks (MCNs) – teams that co-ordinate cardiac care – to consider whether there were suit-able locations in their areas for static defibrillators and, if recommended, to put them in place by the end of March this year.

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But responses from boards contacted by The Scotsman revealed little had happened since the plan was produced, despite the March deadline. Three boards, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Highland and NHS Grampian, said the issue had not yet been discussed.

Other boards, including Forth Valley, Tayside and Western Isles, said they had discussed public-access defibrillators but had decided not to fund any at this time, in some cases because they believed they did not have any locations busy enough to justify them.

Charles Swainson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: "Following consultation with our managed clinical network, it was decided that funding public-access defibrillators was not a priority at this time."

In some areas, including Fife and the Borders, boards said some defibrillators had been in place before the action plan was published. Often these were funded by private companies, such as those running airports and football grounds, or by charities, but, in some cases, the NHS may have helped train staff.

Only NHS Shetland said it had supported a defibrillator, at Clickimin Leisure Centre. "This was in place by the end of March 2010, and training has been provided to the leisure centre staff to use the equipment effectively," a spokesman said.

A study published this month by Glasgow University found that only 22 per cent of major public places in Scotland had a defibrillator. None was paid for by the NHS.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which has helped fund many defibrillators, last night called for more equipment to be made available in Scotland.

Ben McKendrick, of BHF Scotland, said: "We want to see all NHS boards allocate resources for the establishment of static and mobile defibrillators as a matter of urgency, to fulfil the commitment in the action plan."

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Heart disease, and the treatment of heart attack, remains a clinical priority for the NHS in Scotland and we want people to have access to the best possible treatment at the earliest possible opportunity, including potentially life-saving defibrillators.

"The Scottish Government's Better Heart Disease and Stroke Care Action Plan, published in 2009, placed responsibility on NHS boards to look at introducing defibrillators in public places and our national advisory committee on heart disease will be checking on what progress has been made next month."