Ambulance service's £1m shock

NEARLY £1 million is to be spent replacing Essex Ambulance's entire stock of life-saving defibrillators after they failed to deliver high-voltage shocks into the hearts of dying patients, it has emerged.

NEARLY £1 million is to be spent replacing Essex Ambulance's entire stock of life-saving defibrillators after they failed to deliver high-voltage shocks into the hearts of dying patients, it has emerged.

Defibrillators deliver an electric shock to revive flat-lining heart attack victims with rapid treatment vital to the patient's chances of survival

But Essex ambulance staff recently reported malfunctions in the use of both the large £12,500-a-piece Lifepak 12 defibrillators and the hand-held, £4,500-a-throw, Schiller defibrillator.

The Essex service has confirmed to the EADT that, because of the problems and the age of some of its devices, it now plans to replace its entire defibrillator stock at a cost of nearly £1 million.


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Donald Law, medical director at Essex Ambulance Service, said yesterday: “Clearly the failure of a defibrillator could have very serious consequences,”

The problem discovered with the Lifepak 12s related to the paddles - the parts that are placed on the chests of patients through which an electrical charge is emitted - and the leads, which connect the power supply to the paddles.

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Summarising the problem, Mr Law said: “They did not shock”.

Three separate incidents have been reported and were flagged up immediately with the devices' Minneapolis-based maker Medtronic. Essex currently has a stock of 60 Lifepak 12s.

The firm is now redesigning the connectors for the Lifepak 12 model.

Joe McGrath, Medtronic's spokesman, said it had worked closely with the ambulance service during the past few months to upgrade equipment, adding the firm initiated a voluntary recall of the cables and hard paddles in September to upgrade them to more durable items.

He said: “We are fully committed to ensuring these devices perform to the utmost standards of quality and durability.

“Our continuing efforts to improve the connection capability of these devices, which are used in harsh conditions, is the single largest initiative in Medtronic's Emergency Response Systems business.”

Essex paramedics have also recently encountered problems with the other type of defibrillator used in the county - the smaller defibrillator made by the Swiss firm Schiller AG.

In relation to these machines, a “serious untoward incident” was reported after ambulance staff found the batteries to be flat after just one month - instead of the expected year-long charge life.

The problem in this instance was not a manufacturing one but to do with the way the devices were being used and tested by the trust's own staff.

In response, Essex Ambulance Service overhauled its usage protocols for the Schiller machines and now supplies a spare battery with each device.

Mr Law added: “Nobody died because of these of these failures. As far as the trust and the NHS is concerned these problems show how the reporting of serious untoward incidents can play a major role in getting things put right, and put right very quickly.”

Dr Michael Colquhoun, chairman of the Resuscitation Council, said properly operating defibrillators were a “matter of life and death”.

“We are talking seconds and minutes. You need to defibrillate somebody within three minutes of collapse. Problems with defibrillators are uncommon,” he said.

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients' Association, called on the trust to make certain they bought their next stock of defibrillators with extreme care in order to protect patients in the future.

He said: “Patient safety is our primary concern and I'm glad these incidents were picked up in time but manufacturers supply stock to the required specifications asked for by the buyers. The trust needs to make sure it has the proper purchasing mechanisms in place.”

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