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A general debate on public access to automatic external defibrillators will take place in Westminster Hall on 4 November 2021. The debate has been selected by the Backbench Business Committee and will be led by Jim Shannon MP.

During a cardiac arrest, electrical activity in the heart is disrupted, altering its rhythm and normal functioning. An automatic external defibrillator (AED) can be used to provide an electric shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm. There are many possible causes of a cardiac arrest, these include heart attack, genetic heart defect or drug overdose.

The timely provision of defibrillation, alongside cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), can significantly improve the likelihood that a person will survive a cardiac arrest. The Resuscitation Council states that a person’s chance of survival decreases by around 10% with every minute that defibrillation is delayed.[1]

Many commercial, community and charitable organisations have installed AEDs on their premises to support the timely provision of defibrillation in the event of a cardiac arrest. Some organisations, such as the British Heart Foundation, have created databases which map the availability of publicly available defibrillators (PADs) across the UK.

The government has encouraged organisations across England to consider purchasing AEDs, particularly where there are high concentrations of people.[2]

There is no legal requirement for an organisation to provide an AED, though there has been some discussion about whether failure to do so could give rise to negligence claims if an individual was to experience a cardiac arrest on the organisation’s premises. There has also been some suggestion that an individual who administers defibrillation to a person experiencing a cardiac arrest may assume some liability if the individual comes to harm.

The Resuscitation Council notes that “the courts have always looked benevolently on those who have gone to the assistance of others”.[3] The Council also explains that modern AEDs are very reliable and will not allow a shock to be given unless it’s needed. For this reason, the Council explains that a person administering an AED is “extremely unlikely to do any harm” to a person suffering a suspected cardiac arrest.

On 21 June 2021, Jim Shannon MP introduced the Automated External Defibrillators (Public Access) Bill as a Private Members’ Bill. The Bill would require the installation of AEDs in public buildings, sporting facilities, schools, higher education and other education and skills facilities, and facilities that provide care to vulnerable people. The Bill, which would also make provision about training and signage, is scheduled to have its Second Reading on 10 December 2021.

[1]   Resuscitation Council UK and BHF, A guide to automated external defibrillators (AEDs), Dec 2019

[2]   PQ 45270, 14 Sep 2021

[3]   Resuscitation Council, Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, automated defibrillators and the law, Apr 2018

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