Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is being asked about the ‘shambolic’ system of registering community defibrillators after an MSP heard the concerns of a Highland campaign group.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart met with the volunteers from the Caithness Defibrillator Campaign Group who told him there was currently no legislation covering the registration, proper governance, maintenance and storage requirements for the life-saving equipment.
The group’s Chairman, Billy Mitchell explained: “When you buy a car it must be registered before you can drive it away and it must have regular checks to prove road worthiness as a legal requirement.
“But there is no legal requirement for an owner to register a vital life-saving device such as an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) or for any checks to be carried out. These devices may be used on members of the public and members of the public should be confident that they are registered and well maintained as they are a vital link in the chain of survival.”
Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said: “I was really impressed by the work of this keen community group and believe volunteers raised very valid points about how this equipment is registered and the need for changes to help save more lives, especially in remote and rural areas.
“I am more than happy to take up their points with the Health Secretary and the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) to see where we can go from here.”
Mr Stewart has also written to Stagecoach and Scotrail/Abellio asking if they would consider putting defibrillators on trains and buses, another issue raised by the campaign group.
The group, which launched this year with Caithness Heart Support Group and the Community Heartbeat Trust, set out to map all AEDs in the Caithness area and had completed roadshows highlighting the importance of registering defibrillators and the importance of regular checks being carried out.
Mr Stewart was told that the group discovered AEDs being placed outside in unsuitable cabinets, with no heater to keep the device at an appropriate temperature and full of dead flies and insects.
Key pieces such as the pads were out of date, there was no record of keeping checks and batteries had not been changed. Communities gifted an AED were sometimes given no guidance, help or advice on how to operate and run them.
The group also told Mr Stewart that when someone calls 999 and the ambulance establishes that it is a cardiac arrest, the service will not send someone for an AED if it is outwith a 150m radius of the incident.
“I have asked Pauline Howie, the Chief Executive of SAS, about this rule which does seem inappropriate for a rural area where there are sometimes long distances between emergency medical help,” said Mr Stewart.
Mr Mitchell added: “We would like to see AEDs on trains and buses on journeys to Inverness as they travel to out of the way places and some stations are unmanned.
“At the same time, we are also keen to encourage more signage directing the public to the nearest AED.
“In 2017 a Bill was presented to Parliament which would have made defibrillators compulsory in schools, leisure centres, sports centres and major public places, but due to the 2017 election the Defibrillator (Availability) Bill was tabled but never became law. The group is disappointed that this never became law. However, we hope to present evidence to the Public Petitions Committee.”
* Photo one David Stewart with Chairman Billy Mitchell
* Photo two Back row: volunteers Willie Marshall, Bob Bell and Kay Rosie
Front row: Chairman Billy Mitchell, David Stewart and Ron Gunn