The HSE has published a guide for communities hoping to set up ‘first responder’ programmes, which are aimed at reducing sudden cardiac death.
First responders are people who respond immediately – before the arrival of an ambulance and emergency medical staff – to someone who has collapsed or whose heart has stopped.
First responder programmes are set up in communities and at sites of major public gatherings, such as shopping centres, airports, workplaces and sports clubs.
They allow for the person who has collapsed to be treated in a coordinated way. Responses include administering CPR (mouth to mouth and chest compressions) and using automated external defibrillators (AEDs). An AED is a device that is used to administer an electric shock to a person who is in cardiac arrest.
According to the HSE, a first responder programme ‘can play a significant role in keeping a person alive en route to expert medical care’. Its Cardiac First Responder Guide aims to advise groups who may be interested in establishing such a programme in their area.
When a death occurs within an hour of the onset of symptoms, which are assumed to have a cardiac cause, this is considered a sudden cardiac death. An estimated 5,000 people die every year in Ireland as a result of sudden cardiac death. Most of these are due to coronary heart disease.
The Report of the Task Force on Sudden Cardiac Death, which was published in 2006, noted that the chances of survival following a cardiac arrest improved considerably if there was a rapid, coordinated response to the emergency.
This guide was produced in response to that report’s recommendation that a guide should be developed to provide local information and advice to communities and organisations who wish to establish first responder programmes.
“In order to save more lives in Ireland, we need to be better organised and better skilled to respond quickly to collapse and cardiac events in our community. It is an issue for all of us in society”, commented Dr Siobhan Jennings, chairperson of the Sudden Cardiac Death Steering Group.