Public Defibrillator

Lack of access to defibrillators in deprived areas risks lives, study finds

Image credit: Istock

There is a lack of defibrillators in some of the most deprived areas of England and Scotland which puts lives at risk, a study from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has found.

A defibrillator delivers a dose of electric current – often called a counter-shock – to the heart in order to restart it during a cardiac event.

Using research from The Circuit, which aims to map all public access defibrillators in the UK, the nearest 24/7 accessible defibrillator is, on average, a round trip of over a mile away. While in Wales there was no link between defibrillator location and deprivation, the picture in England and Scotland revealed that more deprived areas are typically further away from a 24/7-accessible defibrillator.

With nearly three in 10 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in England happening on the weekend, and four in 10 happening between 6pm and 6am, quick access to a defibrillator at any time of day is crucial. 

In 2022, there were 20,557 deaths due to acute myocardial infarction (or heart attack) in England and Wales. Cardiac arrest survival rates are 70 per cent if a defibrillator is used within five minutes, but every minute of delay reduces the chance of survival by up to 10 per cent.

On average, a public access defibrillator is 726 metres away from the centre of any given postcode along the road network across Great Britain. People living in the most deprived areas of England and Scotland are typically between 99 and 317 metres further away from their nearest 24/7 defibrillator than those in the least deprived areas. 

The postcode a person lives in may have a significant impact on their chance of surviving a cardiac arrest. The researchers said that this discrepancy is putting lives at risk in more deprived areas. 

Dr Chris Wilkinson, senior lecturer in cardiology at Hull York Medical School, who led the research, said: “By calculating how far every postcode in Great Britain is from its nearest defibrillator, we’ve shown just how much deprivation levels affect the public’s access to these lifesaving devices out-of-hours in England and Scotland.

“Making existing defibrillators accessible to the public 24/7 would make a big difference to the average distances people need to travel in an out-of-hours emergency, and would improve equality of access – which can help save lives.” 

Judy O’Sullivan, the British Heart Foundation’s director of health innovation programmes, said: “We are proud that data from The Circuit has helped to highlight that deprived communities need better support to help improve response times to an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Bystander CPR and defibrillation can double the chance of survival from a cardiac arrest, so it is crucial that we address the unequal access to defibrillators in order to improve survival rates.”

In 2021, researchers found that, on average, drones could be used to send defibrillators to the scene of a heart attack faster than an ambulance could reach it.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles