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Chief medical officer calls for ‘zero tolerance' over defibrillator vandalism

Dr Michael McBride, chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, has spoken out against vandals and thieves targeting life-saving defibrillators. Picture by Mal McCann
Paul Ainsworth

THE north's chief medical officer has added his voice to calls for tougher action against those who damage defibrillators, warning that lives could be lost if the vandalism continues.

Dr Michael McBride, who recently stood down as Chief Executive of Belfast Heath Trust, spoke of his “bewilderment and frustration” at the increase in “mindless” attacks on the devices, which can restart hearts in a cardiac emergency.

His call came after the Irish News recently revealed that 22 defibrillators were targeted by thieves and vandals since 2010.

In the most recent incident in east Belfast a man smashed his fist into a public-use defibrillator outside a funeral home– an attack captured on CCTV that sparked widespread revulsion.

Dr McBride, who in 2014 helped launch a Community Resuscitation Strategy to increase aware of defibrillators and how they can help save lives, said a “zero tolerance” approach was needed to deal with those who target them.

“Around 1,400 people in Northern Ireland suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year, but only around 10 percent of those people survive,” Dr McBride said.

“Compare that to somewhere like Seattle in the US, where awareness and training has seen that survival rate rise to 50 percent. In emergencies, minutes literally cost lives – each minute after an arrest the chances of survival fall by 10 percent, so if a defibrillator is out of action, then that can be tragic.

“From January to October, defibrillators restarted the heart of 18 people who had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.”

Dr McBride, who backed a fundraising campaign that resulted in over 100 defibrillators being installed at shops owned by retailers the Henderson Group earlier this year, said continued vandalism could result in fewer people donating to fundraising campaigns to purchase the devices – which can cost thousands of pounds each.

“Some might question if the effort is worth it if the result is the device they worked hard to raise money for ends up broken or stolen,” he added.

“I can only express my utter bewilderment and frustration as to why anyone would do this, but it’s happening, and there needs to be a zero tolerance approach towards those who do it. We show zero tolerance to those who attack hospital staff or equipment – the same needs to be done in these cases.

“The portable defibrillator was invented by Professor Frank Pantridge, who hailed from Northern Ireland, so we owe it to his legacy to protect and respect these important pieces of equipment.”

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