Defibrillator theft and vandalism ‘putting lives at risk’ in Wales

The Welsh Ambulance Trust has warned that defibrillator theft and sabotage could put lives at risk.

talking to bbcAt least eight defibrillators were stolen or damaged in the past one year, the trust said.

St John’s Ambulance Cymru said less than 5% of people with cardiac arrest outside the hospital will survive, but if a defibrillator is used within three minutes, that number rises to 70%.

The defibrillator works by giving an electric shock to the heart. If a sudden cardiac arrest causes someone’s heart to stop beating normally, it can shock him back to a normal rhythm, potentially saving his life.

Safety measures such as locking appliances into cabinets can delay emergencies, and every minute no action is taken, the survival rate drops by 10%.

Speaking to the BBC, Tomos Hughes, the Public Access Defibrillators (PADS) support officer of the Welsh Ambulance Trust, said: “This makes me very, very angry and very sad. Vandalism is basically putting lives at risk.

“I don’t think they understand the consequences. If something happens to a member of their family, how would they feel when they called 999 and they were sent to get a defibrillator and there was no one available because it Was their community sabotaged?”

Hughes said there have been incidents over the past year where defibrillators were needed, yet could not be used by the public because they were stolen or were offline due to vandalism.

The BBC also spoke to Alan Mathias, 69, a cardiac arrest survivor. His cardiac arrest happened three years ago, while he was playing badminton at a leisure centre.

Fortunately, a doctor who was playing on the next court gave him CPR, and the leisure center staff brought in a defibrillator.

Mathias said: “I had no warning, nothing. The last thing I remember is the floor coming towards my face.

“I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Defib.

“To think that people could steal them or vandalize them is unbelievable.”

Mathias further said that he was aware of a case where a defibrillator was vandalized in Mould, Flintshire, where he had a cardiac arrest.

“They caught the perpetrator, and he made a mistake when someone saved by a defib told him his story.”

Since his cardiac arrest, Mathias has worked with Calon Hearts, a charity that aims to get more defibrillators into communities, businesses and schools. The charity also provides CPR training and heart checkups.

Calon Hearts is based in Cardiff and was founded nine years ago by Sharon Owen. Since then, it has installed 13,000 defibrillators across Wales.

Owen told the BBC: “Because in the society we live in unhappy, defibrillators are being stolen or vandalized. If people only realized how important defibrillators are, their grandmother, grandfather, mother or father would have It may be needed.

“It hurts to see this and I have seen many instances where this is happening.

“People are fundraising for these machines, they ain’t cheap.”

According to Owen, incidents in which defibrillators have been stolen include one being taken from a Bridgend train station, and another being taken from a church in Glamorgan’s Canyon and thrown into a river.

While the charity advises that defibrillators should be kept in an unlocked cabinet, for ease of use, people were putting codes on them for fear of theft or vandalism. This can cause problems in case of emergency.

“If the internet isn’t good or they can’t play 999 to get the code, that person is going to die.”

According to St John Ambulance Cymru, education around defibrillators can help reduce incidents of theft or vandalism.

The training manager, Kimberly Low, agreed that closed cabinets could cause problems.

“This can lead to a delay in an emergency where every second counts. The survival rate drops to 10% for every minute that goes without action,” she told the BBC.

“Increasing public knowledge about the devices will lead to a greater appreciation for their importance in the hearts of local communities and ultimately reduce incidents of theft.”

The BBC also spoke to Adam Fletcher, head of the British heart foundation Cymru, who said it was important to register defibrillators with the national defibrillator network in Wales. This means that if someone calls 999 to report a cardiac arrest, the nearest machine can be traced.

There are around 6,000 defibrillators registered in the UK, but there are believed to be tens of thousands of unregistered devices.

The defibrillator parents are also urged to update their details in the register in case any device is stolen or damaged.

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