Number of Northern Ireland schools with no defibrillator access ‘worrying’
Only around one in four schools in Northern Ireland has bought a defibrillator in the last four years, an Assembly member has revealed.
Strangford MLA and DUP education spokesman Peter Weir said the life-saving devices, which deliver an electric jolt that can restart the heart, can be the difference between life and death.
He said: "There is no greater tragedy in our society than the preventable loss of young life.
"Automated External Defibrillators (AED), which are effectively a local invention by Professor Frank Pantridge, have played a key role on a weekly basis in reducing the number of such tragedies, and we have seen the benefits of this recently, with interventions in the crucial minutes before an ambulance can get there often being the difference between life and death. Sadly, we have also witnessed too many tragedies in their absence."
Pantridge, a cardiologist from Co Down, invented the portable defibrillator in 1965, revolutionising emergency medicine and saving countless lives across the world.
Following an attack, the chance of survival is 5% with CPR alone but this can increase to 50% if the patient is shocked quickly with a defibrillator.
In recent years, there has been a drive to get defibrillators into many public places. Mr Weir said that while it is unclear how many schools in total have access to a defibrillator, figures from the Department of Education show that around a quarter of all schools here have purchased an AED through the procurement platform of the Education Authority during the last four years.
These include 19 special schools, 178 primary schools and 69 post-primary schools.
"There are also another 110 that have been purchased through EA for Libraries, Youth Groups and other organisations," Mr Weir said.
He said his figures do not tell the whole story "as many defibrillators have been purchased by schools either before 2014, through other routes or been donated to the school through charity groups or PTA fundraising".
But he added: "It is nevertheless worrying that this means that many local schools do not have access to an AED. I appreciate that budgets are very tight, but I would urge the likely minority of schools and local communities that don't have a defibrillator to ensure that the provision of at least one AED is available in their local school.
"We must all pray that the device is never needed, but when it is, it can make a critical difference and spare a family from heartbreaking tragedy."