Averil welcomes the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013 (19/06/2013)

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Senator Averil Power: I join colleagues in strongly welcoming the Bill and commend Senator Quinn for bringing it forward.  I welcome the Minister of State’s remarks that the Bill is accepted in principle.  I hope we can move it forward at a faster pace than his initial response indicated.  The early availability of defibrillators has been recommended in a number of different reports and much of the research work has been done.  We could move forward at a very early stage.  There are a number of amendments which could be made on Committee Stage but I see no reason for delay in getting there.

This is a very important Bill.  The Health Research Board indicates that up to 5,000 people die every year from sudden cardiac arrest.  Those events might not have been fatal had people had early access to defibrillation.  Time is absolutely of the essence.  The chances of survival for a person who has suffered a cardiac event drops by 10% every minute.  Even if a person does survive, the risk of serious brain damage increases.  I understand that the response time in Dublin is approximately seven minutes, but it is much longer than that around the rest of the country.  The harsh reality is that the absence of defibrillators is costing lives.  An ambulance cannot get there in time to save a person.  The use of a defibrillator is a simple process.  The latest version of the technology will even talk one through all the steps and includes visual and voice prompts to tell someone what exactly they need to do.  The technology will not provide a shock unless it is needed.  It is incredibly smart technology and very cheap at the price.  This is fantastic legislation which deserves support.

We have the research that shows that defibrillators have saved lives.  The policy at Dublin Airport of installing defibrillators means that 19 people are alive today who would not otherwise have survived.  People of all ages, including an 85 year old gentleman who was saved a few months ago, are still with us because the airport installed the machines and trained its staff.  It ensures that within a few minutes walk of any part of the airport, there is a defibrillator.  I know first-hand how important the technology is.  A good friend of mine, Seaghan Kearney, is a year or two younger than me and very healthy.  He is very fit and plays football a couple of times a week.  He was playing football one night with friends and simply dropped to the floor.  I was talking to him earlier when I told him I was speaking on the Bill.  He said he was very lucky that there was one charge left in the defibrillator in the sports hall where he was playing and that there was a fireman playing who was not there most nights.  Seaghan says it is pure luck that he is here.  Every day he thanks God there was a defibrillator that saved his life.  He said it should not depend on luck and that we should be able to say to people across the country that defibrillators are available.  We must make the effort to put them in place.

For that reason, it is important.  Seaghan Kearney said there was a defibrillator there but it was of nearly no use to him because it had not been charged.  If we introduce a policy whereby there is a defibrillator in every building, we must bear in mind the ACT campaign of the Mater Foundation.  The three steps for ensuring defibrillators work is that they are accessible, and not locked away in a press for which no one knows where the key is, that they are charged and that people are trained in how to use them.  Otherwise, it is futile and there is no point in having machines if people cannot use them.  It is important to ensure there is an education and training strategy.

With regard to costs, this deserves the priority of having funding behind it.  The point has been made about the cost to the health service if we do not reach someone in time and people end up in prolonged care suffering serious issues such as brain damage, which would be prevented if we had someone to help them as first responder and to provide CPR or use the defibrillator.  We would save money in the health service in the long run.  It is simply a matter of prioritisation.

For small businesses under pressure, we need to provide grants.  The same applies to sporting organisations.  There must be funding behind it.  Some companies provide training and the standard varies in respect of the level of support provided afterwards.  I would like to see a whole strategy, working with the Mater Foundation, which has done major work on this issue.  The foundation knows what needs to be done.  There should be a national strategy to train the trainers and ensure people are available, not just through private organisations, to provide training.

Later, we should ensure every transition year student is familiar with this.  Senator Gilroy made the point that it is so easy that even he could figure it out.  One session with a group of transition year students, who will be the peers playing in the football match, is of benefit.  Cardiac arrest affects people of all ages but there is an issue of sudden adult death.  Let us make sure that if something happens to a young person, peers are trained in how to respond and have the confidence to respond.  What puts people off going to someone’s aid is not having confidence and worrying about what may happen.  I welcome the fact that the Bill deals with civil liability and that people have nothing to worry about by putting themselves forward.  They do not have to worry about legal exposure.  I strongly welcome the legislation and I hope the Minister can ensure the Government gives it greater priority to move it forward.  We can talk through amendments and ensure everyone is happy.  If the Department has concerns, they can be addressed as part of the next Stage.  I hope we will not wait a long time to get a signal to proceed to Committee Stage.  Everyday, lives are being lost for the lack of early defibrillation.

I went to see him in the hospital in Newry and I could not believe that a half an hour later he was sitting up in bed.  Training in CPR is important.  If nobody at the wedding had been able to perform CPR he would have died, and he realises that.  I cannot emphasise enough the importance of training.

There are defibrillators at different locations in the Leinster House complex and 25 staff are trained to use them, although I have not seen them.  I do not frequent the bar but somebody said there was one there.  It would be no harm to have training on a continual basis.  I commend Senator Quinn.  This is a marvellous Bill on which he has done a great deal of work.  It is a sensible Bill and both he and Senator Crown have my full support.

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