25 March 2022

Four-hundred defibrillators could save 100 lives a year - so why the delay?

| Lottie Twyford
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St Johns Ambulance first responder Thomas Cressy, Opposition spokesperson for health Leanna Castley and St Johns Ambulance CEO Adrian Watts

(Left to right) St Johns Ambulance first responder Thomas Cressy, Opposition spokesperson for health Leanna Castley and St Johns Ambulance CEO Adrian Watts all want to see defibrillators installed in public buildings, including schools. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Thomas Cressy was at the gym when the unthinkable happened.

Another member of the group fitness class he was participating in – who was only 31 years old at the time – went into cardiac arrest.

Luckily Mr Cressy, a St Johns Ambulance first responder, was on hand and delivered compressions and breaths as part of CPR but, because the gym didn’t have a defibrillator, another bystander was forced to run over the road to the local supermarket to retrieve one.

Seven minutes elapsed before it arrived and the man could be shocked.

“[Without it], who knows what could have happened? However, I know that this device absolutely helped in saving a life,” Mr Cressy explained.

According to St John Ambulance CEO Adrian Watts, having quick access to a defibrillator could save the lives of up to 100 Canberrans a year.

And while there’s currently no requirement for them to be installed in public buildings, Mr Watts has long said that’s something which should be changed.

Mr Watts has described the government’s response so far to calls to put defibrillators in public buildings as mostly underwhelming.

“Their response [last year] suggested it wasn’t their responsibility,” he explained.

He said he was aware of many cases in which it had been up to an individual school’s Parents and Citizens groups to advocate for defibrillators to be installed.

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Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley earlier this week called on the ACT Government to install defibrillators in government buildings across Canberra, including in schools and workplaces.

“Less than half (38 of 89) of ACT government schools have defibrillators on campus and Canberra has the opportunity to lead the nation with this life-saving initiative,” Ms Castley said.

“Every life in Canberra that we lose is one too many.”

She said it would be a simple fix – and wouldn’t present an enormous cost to the government either as each defibrillator costs $2500 for installation and upkeep.

St John’s Ambulance estimates it would cost the government $1 million to provide 400 defibrillators to cover the required buildings.

Ms Castley’s motion, which she introduced to the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday (23 March) also called for a public education campaign and for the government to examine installing defibrillators on all Canberra buses.

The government, however, while not entirely rubbishing Ms Castley’s motion, argued a legislative mandate was not the best way forward.

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Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government “supported the intent of Ms Castley’s motion” but wanted to clarify the progress that was already underway.

She said there were concerns around whether bystanders would actually have the confidence to use a defibrillator.

According to one report which Ms Stephen-Smith referenced, “most untrained staff reported they were likely to wait for a first aid trained staff member or emergency services, rather than activate a defibrillator without training”.

She said there were also complexities around the usefulness of the location of publicly-accessible defibrillators relating to how likely a cardiac arrest would be as well as whether someone would actually use it if an event did occur.

Schools are supported to make purchases such as defibrillators in budget funding arrangements, the Minister said.

According to Ms Stephen-Smith’s motion, the government will continue supporting government schools and agencies to increase the availability of defibrillators in their facilities.

It will also consider how to increase public awareness of the use of and access to defibrillators to save lives in conjunction with St John Ambulance and the Heart Foundation.

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10 years, $1 million 1000 lives.

$1000 per life, why isn’t this already done?

A gym without a defibrillator shows that there is a fatal flaw in our regulations.

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