Research highlights “strikingly low” use of public defibrillators in cardiac arrest


Defibrillators are being used in just one in 10 cardiac arrests where they are available, according to research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference (5–7 June, Manchester, UK). 

The research drew upon data from the East of England Ambulance Service and The Circuit, the national defibrillator network developed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The Circuit maps the location of defibrillators across the whole of the UK, so that emergency services can direct bystanders to the nearest defibrillator in the event of a cardiac arrest.

They then analysed the density of defibrillators across geographical areas, the number of cardiac arrests, as well as the frequency that defibrillators were used from April to September 2022.

The results found that 1,649 cardiac arrests occurred in the East of England in the six-month period. Public access defibrillators were available (within 500m of the cardiac arrest) in 1,302 (79%) cases, but only used in 132 (10%) of cases.

The researchers say these findings underline the need for better education and awareness around defibrillators, so that they are used more frequently.

The study, from researchers at the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre (CTC), part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust (MSEFT), and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) also found that there are fewer defibrillators in more deprived areas, compared to the most affluent.

The researchers overlayed data on defibrillator density and cardiac arrests with data from the 2019 index of multiple deprivation. This revealed that Luton, the most deprived area in the East of England had the lowest rates of defibrillators in the region, with 16 defibrillators per 100,000 people, compared to the mean for the East of England of 72 per 100,000 people.

“Our study highlights strikingly low numbers of publicly available defibrillators being used in the event of a cardiac arrest in the east of England area, which suggests that much more needs to be done to promote awareness and education around CPR and defibrillation,” said Thomas Keeble (Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK). “It is also concerning to see far fewer defibrillators in the most deprived areas—such a finding should prompt further discussion about more consistent and effective placement of defibrillators in communities.”

Judy O’Sullivan, Director of Innovation in Health Programmes at the British Heart Foundation said: “Prompt CPR and defibrillation from bystanders can be the difference between life and death, so it is concerning to see low rates of defib use. There are many known reasons for the low use of defibrillators, including not having enough bystanders available at the scene of an emergency, difficulty in accessing a defibrillator at the time when it is needed, or fear of it using it. More needs to be done to encourage people to use these life saving devices when they are available.

“We also know there are thousands of unregistered defibrillators which means their location is not known to the ambulance services. We are calling upon everybody who owns or looks after defib to register it on The Circuit today—this could help save someone’s life.”


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