The wife and I took a few days break in Galway during the last week. On Wednesday we drove west along the coast from the city. In a couple of remote villages I spotted green finger posts pointing to “Public Defibrillator, 24/7”. It struck me that here was a piece of life saving technology that has been made widely available in recent years that did not even exist on ambulances less than 50 years ago.
We have two in our small town, installed a year or so ago. Training was provided for volunteers. The devices are automatic (the “A” in “AED”) and, once the electrodes have been correctly placed in accordance with instructions contained in the box, detect the precise nature of the fault in the patient’s heart and determine the required charge to be applied.
However, they should always be used in conjunction with manual CPR and this is where the training comes in. CPR is administered by one person whilst the other unpacks the defibrillator and attaches the electrodes.
A friend from the writers’ group, a retired teacher, along with a retired surgeon who also happens to be a director of the cancer support centre where I volunteer, recently completed a survey which enabled them to create a database of all the defibrillators in the county. Most of these are in workplaces and therefore not available to the general public outside of business hours. Hence the demand for publicly accessible units like the one pictured above, which is outside one of our local grocers.
I have been on first aid courses in recent years. These now include CPR and the use of a defibrillator, alongside the more traditional tourniquet application and placing someone’s arm in a sling.
I wondered how important it is to have these machines accessible. My surgeon acquaintance obviously thinks they are a valuable resource, but what is the evidence? According to this article, if a defibrillator is applied within the first 3 to 5 minutes of someone collapsing, his or her chances of survival increase from 6% to 74%. And a 2007 report by heart experts at Johns Hopkins estimated that at least 522 lives could be saved annually across the USA and Canada by having the machines available in large public spaces.
Do you know where your nearest defibrillator is located and do you know how to use it?
I have always been a passionate advocate of proportional representation, believing that the “first past the post” method of elections traditionally used in the UK is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. Here in Ireland the method used is the one preferred by most advocates of electoral reform in the UK – single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. In the general election held on 8th February three parties each secured a little less than one quarter of the votes cast, thereby creating a situation in which the formation of a viable government is problematic to say the least. And this, in a country that is used to coalitions and other forms of joint arrangement.
Is it making me rethink my support for PR? No. I believe it is incumbent upon politicians to interpret the wishes of the people, as expressed via the ballot box, and to overcome feelings of pride and disappointment in a search for compromise. Ironically, it seems that Boris Johnson, in his determination to transfer resources to the northern regions of England, is doing just that, perhaps in recognition that he was elected by only 42% of the electorate in December. This compares to Labour’s 40%.