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‘Shocking' defibrillator figures sparks call for tougher action against vandals

A defibrillator at a service station on Belfast's Andersonstown Road that was stolen in July before being returned less than 12 hours later following an online appeal. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Paul Ainsworth

THOSE who steal or vandalise defibrillators should be dealt with to the same extent as those prosecuted for attacks on emergency services, an MLA has insisted, as figures show a total of 22 of the life-saving devices have been stolen or damaged within six years.

Since January 2010, 14 defibrillators have been stolen across the north and eight of the devices - which are used in cardiac emergencies – suffered criminal damage.

Figures obtained by the Irish News also reveal 34 life rings situated beside rivers, loughs, and at points along the coastline, have also been targeted by thieves and vandals.

Seventeen of the floatation aids were reported to police as damaged in the last six years, and a further 17 stolen.

The latest defibrillator theft occurred at a shop on Belfast’s Ormeau Road earlier this month.

It had been installed for public use after customers donated over £2,000 for its purchase, and was one of over 100 placed at stores owned by retailers Henderson Group this year.

In July, a defibrillator stolen from a petrol station in Andersonstown, west Belfast, was returned less than 12 hours later following an appeal on social media.

Around 1,400 people suffer a cardiac arrest while outside of a hospital each year in NI, with only 10 percent surviving.

Defibrillators have been linked to an increase in survival chances, and in March of this year, then health minister Simon Hamilton announced an investment of £250,000 for a ‘community resuscitation’ strategy that included training more people to use the devices alongside CPR techniques.

East Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan, who in 2015 placed a motion before the Assembly calling for a register of public defibrillators to help locate them in emergencies, condemned those responsible for targetting the vital equipment.

Describing the PSNI figures as “shocking”, he said: “Defibrillators provide an essential life-saving service to communities and there can be no justification or excuse for stealing or damaging them,” he said.

Mr McMullan said the devices were of particular importance in rural areas, adding: "In many cases, these defibrillators have been secured, and sometimes bought by local communities, and any attack on them is essentially an attack on the community.

"We should treat thefts of and damage to defibrillators in the same way as attacks on the emergency services and prosecute those responsible."

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