The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) has seen a ‘notable increase' in the number of reports in recent years indicating that Automated External Defibrillators (AED) were not in good working order when they needed to be used.
A cardiac defibrillator is a device used to administer an electric shock to a person in cardiac arrest. While once only available in hospitals, technological advances have resulted in the development of portable devices - AEDs - which can be used by people with minimal medical training.
These tend to be found in places frequented by large groups of people, such as shopping centres, sports grounds and airports.
Up to 5,000 people die every year in Ireland after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest, with about seven in 10 of these deaths taking place outside the hospital environment. As a result, it is essential that AEDs are in good working order.
However, according to the IMB, it received 10 reports in 2010 about AEDs which were not in good working order. In 2007, the number of such reports was just four.
In response to this, it has published an information leaflet which provides advice on how to maintain an AED so that it always works effectively.
Following an analysis of all the reports of problems, the IMB found that some of the issues could have been avoided ‘through good maintenance, regular servicing and enhanced user knowledge'.
According to the IMB's chief executive, Pat O'Mahony, sports clubs, community centres and schools are just some of the groups who have gone to the trouble in recent years of raising funds to purchase these machines.
While this is to be commended, it must be remembered that these are sophisticated, sensitive pieces of medical equipment that must be maintained and stored properly, ‘otherwise the money raised is wasted as they may not work in potentially life threatening situations'.
He also noted that cases of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) have become more common in Ireland. In fact, it is now estimated that one person a week dies from this condition.
"It is imperative therefore that AEDs are accessible and in good working order at all times. The location and conditions in which an AED is stored is important as the performance of the machine and its accessories can be adversely affected by weather conditions. This is a particularly significant issue in winter when we may experience sub-zero temperatures," Mr O'Mahony explained.
He acknowledged that there is a ‘certain level of risk' associated with the use of any medical device. However, this leaflet ‘aims to explain concisely the checks that should be carried out by users to ensure their AED is kept in good working order and in the right environmental conditions'.
The AED leaflet can be downloaded here or a copy can be requested by calling the IMB on (01) 676 4971.