900+ defibrillators may not work in emergency

Almost 950 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in Ireland need to be updated immediately to ensure that they will work properly if needed in a life-saving situation.

An AED is a device that administers an electric shock to a person who has suffered a cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest refers to the sudden loss of function of the heart. It occurs when there is an abrupt disturbance in the heart's rhythm. This can cause the heart to stop beating, or to stop beating enough to keep a person alive.

A person whose heart has stopped beating will fall unconscious and stop breathing normally. If the person does not get immediate medical assistance, sudden cardiac death will follow. Some 5,000 people die as a result of this every year in Ireland and 70% of these deaths occur outside of hospital.

In recent years, AEDs have been installed in many places where large groups of people tend to gather, such as shopping centres, sports clubs, community centres and schools.

However, while an AED can improve a person's chance of survival if they are in cardiac arrest, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) has warned that if a defibrillator is not stored, serviced or maintained properly, it may not work in an emergency.

It is now calling on all organisations with AEDs to urgently check that the recommended safety and maintenance updates on their devices have been undertaken.

It says that it has identified 940 AEDs in Ireland, made up of five particular models, ‘where a corrective action remains outstanding'.

"To ensure good working order at all times, correct storage and regular checks are required. Most importantly, if an update or other action is identified and communicated by the manufacturer to the AED owner - through the publication and distribution of what is called a field safety notice (FSN) - then this should be undertaken immediately. Otherwise the AED may not work properly when it is needed," the HPRA explained.

It noted that there are many reasons why an AED may not work properly, e.g. it may need an update or batteries may need to be replaced. Weather can also affect performance, which is why correct storage, particularly in the winter months, is so essential.

"It is estimated that there are some 10,000 AEDs in Ireland. We know that almost 950 of these have the potential to not work effectively in an emergency because a corrective action as deemed necessary by the manufacturer has not been completed. We know that the manufacturers concerned have attempted to contact the owners directly with some also using national advertising to highlight the importance of carrying out the required upgrade or battery check," explained Anne Tobin of the HPRA.

She said that the HPRA is now ‘urgently calling' on defibrillator device owners to check if they have an affected AED and if necessary, to contact the manufacturer or supplier immediately to ensure the correction required is carried out without further delay.

"Even if an AED has received all the updates required, all owners should remember that as we enter the winter months it is critical they store their AEDs appropriately. Defibrillators and their accessories can be badly affected by the weather and other environmental conditions.

"The user manual supplied with an AED provides detailed information from the manufacturer about its use and maintenance and the HPRA's own advice leaflet highlights key issues around the purchase, care and use of AEDs. We urge people to read these and act upon the advice provided," Ms Tobin added.

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[Posted: Tue 10/11/2015]

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