In June the Department of Education issued guidance encouraging schools to install defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment. It says that survival rates from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in England range from two per cent to 12 per cent across different parts of the country.  They are as high as 75 per cent  where cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation are delivered promptly.

The guidance adds:

“Research has shown that an individual’s chance of survival following the onset of a cardiac arrest decreases by 7–10 per cent for every minute of delay in commencing treatment. Lack of blood circulation for even a few minutes may lead to irreversible organ damage – including brain damage. Early intervention by bystanders, even those with little or no first aid training, can therefore buy time until professional help arrives, improving the chance of a successful outcome.

“Modern automated external defibrillators are inexpensive, simple to operate and safe for users. The AED will analyse the individual’s heart rhythm and apply a shock to restart it, or advise that CPR should be continued. Voice and/or visual prompts will guide the rescuer through the entire process from when the device is first switched on or opened. These include positioning and attaching the pads, when to start or restart CPR and whether or not a shock is advised.”

The Patients’ Forum for the London Ambulance Service have followed this up with London boroughs urging them to ensure “defibrillators are available in schools – and staff trained to use them – to save the child’s life.”

For my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham the response was:

“We expect the school to have appropriate measures in place, such as paediatric first aiders.”

But paediatric first aid staff do not have a defibrillator to use in school if a child suffers a cardiac arrest. So that is not good enough. This follows a similarly feeble response to a proposal from London Assembly Conservatives to put them in surplus phone boxes.

Some may use the excuse of a lack of money. Yet my Council spends £23 million on its Public Health budget. As with other councils this spending is largely wasted. We have got 61 state schools in my borough – including the free schools and the academies.  The defibrillators would cost around £600 each so around £37,000 to provide one for each of our schools. That would come to 0.2 per cent of our annual public health budget – as a one off cost.

I have asked for the Health and Wellbeing Board in my borough to review the matter. Of course, as an opposition councillor, it is my role to challenge and scrutinise. However I gather the response of other London boroughs has been similar. Conservatives and Labour have displayed bipartisan inertia. Doubtless it is generally the same story elsewhere. These are the same councils with leaders who will routinely complain about lack of money – while failing to show the slightest interest in how their public health budgets are being squandered on vast bureaucracy and ineffective nannying.