Public Defibrillators: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on May 20, 2019

A defibrillator is a remarkable device that has the power to save lives. Defibrillation is simply the name of a shock delivered to the heart administered when it is going through a cardiac arrest. 

Defibrillators are used by the emergency services, and they are also available to buy if you wish to install it in the workplace. There are also public defibrillators that are free to access and use if an incident occurs in public. 

30,000 people suffer cardiac arrests every year in the UK. If left without treatment, the majority of sufferers will die. This article will take a look at the life-saving powers of defibrillators, as well as how to find and use public defibs should you ever need to.

How Do Defibrillators Work?

The name says it all: defibrillators work by undoing the effects of fibrillation inside the heart. Fibrillation is when the cells in the heart start acting as individual pacemakers, which means that they are all attempting to make the heart beat, but are not communicating with one another properly. The effect is cardiac arrest; the defibrillator sends a shock to the heart to jumpstart the cells back into a normal rhythm.

Electrodes are placed on the patient’s chest above the heart. These pass a signal to the processor on the other end, which assesses the rhythm of the heart to see whether a shock is indeed necessary. Defibs are designed to only function if they are actually needed.

Defibs: Know the Stats

Most of us are aware that defibrillators save lives, but just what impact do defibs have on your chances of surviving a cardiac arrest, and how useful are they in general?  Here are some stats to consider about defibrillators (taken from the charity First Aid For Life):

  • Every week, 12 people under 35 die from an unexpected cardiac arrest
  • 270 children die every year from a sudden cardiac arrest while at school
  • Without treatment, every minute following a cardiac arrest decreases the chance of survival by 7% to 10%
  • Defibrillators, when used within 3-5 minutes, can increase chances of survival from 6% to 74%

It’s clear from these stats that cardiac arrest is a serious issue that affects both the young and old. With more defibrillators available for public use, we can dramatically improve patients’ chances of survival.

Where to Find a Public Defibrillator

There are defibrillators in public places, such as airports, schools, train stations, community halls, leisure centres, work premises, train stations, ferry ports, and shopping centres. These are funded by the government as well as health charities. Public Access Defibrillators (PADs) are available for anyone to use should the need arise, but how do you find one in an emergency?

To find out where your nearest PAD is, you can check online and select the area you wish to navigate. Heartsafe provides an excellent search facility. 

If you are unsure where your nearest PAD is located, you can call the emergency services and they can tell you where to find one.

How to Use A Defibrillator

Defibs are designed for ease of use, and you do not need to be a medically trained professional or even an adult to use one effectively. 

First Aiders will receive instructions on how to operate defibrillators automatically as a part of their training. However, you do not need formal training to correctly operate a defib. The British Heart Foundation has a clear and concise video on how to use a defib – check it out and you may just save someone’s life.

We are privileged to live in a world with technology like defibrillators. Thanks largely to defibs, a cardiac arrest is no longer a guaranteed death sentence, and they can be used by anyone – not only medical professionals. 

It’s a good idea to be aware of your nearest public defibrillator and learn how to use it. You can find out more information about cardiac arrests and the importance of defibrillators by visiting the British Heart Foundation website.


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