The defibrillator has long been a favourite prop in any medical drama but now any member of the public may be called upon to become a life saver by using one.
There are now hundreds of them all over Suffolk, with the Co-op alone committed to putting 100 in its village and town shops and big supermarkets funding them in their stores.
One of the latest automated external defibrillators (AED) installed is the one shown here outside The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, funded through money raised by brothers Paul and Jay Hicklin inb memory of their father Will, who died of a heart attack in 2012.
Jon Needle, East of England Ambulance Trust community partnership manager, says many private companies are installing AEDs and the ambulance service would like to be told about them, so they know they are available.
Arrhythmia Alliance says AEDs increase the chance of someone surviving from nine to 50 per cent when compared to the use of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) alone.
Jon adds: “Every minute the shock is delayed your chances of survival reduce by seven to 10 per cent.
“Every ambulance, every fast response car and every community first responder is equipped with one, but in urban areas like this it can sometimes be difficult to get to the patient quickly so having one on the wall means you can get it there quicker and get the shock in.”
An AED is designed to be used by people without training, so it speaks instructions and shows them on a digital readout, as well as having a countdown timer for giving CPR. You also use it under ambulance service direction, so they have responsibility for the treatment you give.
If it detects a heart rhythm, it will not give a shock, so you cannot zap someone who does not need it.
Jon said: “The worst damage you could do with it is drop it on the patient’s head.”
In addition, you can only get the code to open the box on the wall by dialling 999, then the call handler will talk you through the process while a dispatcher simultaneously sends a paramedic and, if available, a first responder.
Contrary to popular belief, a defib does not shock a heart into action.
Jon explained: “The heart is controlled by bio-electrical activity. In a cardiac arrest the heart has gone out of rhythm so the shock stuns the heart to allow the normal rhythm to start again.”
While waiting for the AED, and during the breaks between shocks, you will be asked to give CPR. This is done by pressing down with the heal of the hand against the centre of the breast bone at 120 beats a minute, which is the rhythm of the ‘ah,ah,ah’ in the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive. Some AEDs have a bleep to help.
The ambulance call handler will guide you on this.
A pack with the AED includes a razor, for getting a good contact on hairy chests, and a mask for hygienic mouth-to-mouth. When placing the defib pads, make sure they are clear of metal, such as jewellery or underwired bras.
Jon stressed the first step in any first aid situation, before dialling 999, is covered by the acronym DRAB:
Danger: make sure you and the patient are safe (not near power cables, fire, unsafe structures or traffic).
Response: does the patient respond to voice or pain (pinch the ear).
Airways: check there is nothing in the mouth and gently tilt the head back to draw the tongue away from the airway.
Breathing: look, listen and feel for breath.
Watch Jon’s step-by-step video guide to using an AED.