The charity was founded by Henry Gilbert during his year as High Sheriff of West Glamorgan (2018/19). His understanding of the importance of public accessible defibrillators within the community was developed by an incident which happened just outside his house in the centre of Mumbles, Swansea.
A man had collapsed with a cardiac arrest whilst walking with his wife on a pleasant summer evening. Immediately a couple of passers-by phoned for an ambulance and gave CPR. A defibrillator was sought, but no one knew where the nearest one was – how far and in which direction? It was truly a distressing scene and the wife was understandably distraught and emotional. CPR continued, but a defibrillator was not found – the ambulance eventually arrived and took the patient to hospital. Unfortunately, the man died.
Had a defibrillator been located in time and applied there may have been a different outcome – we don’t really know. Ironically, it latter transpires that there were two defibrillators nearby. A 24-hour public accessible defibrillator was 200 yards on the outside of the public toilets in Castle Fields and there was another held in the Tesco store just 25 yards away – but there were no directional signs and in the commotion of the situation no one realised.
Henry decided that as High Sheriff he would try and raise the importance of defibrillators in the community. He assumed that more defibrillators were required and set out to locate where they were in the county. This proved not to be so easy; even with the address he could not always locate exactly where the defibrillator was sited.
To his surprise, he found that there were in fact quite a few defibrillators within the county – the problem was not so much that more were needed, we were not optimising what already existed. Many defibrillators were ‘hidden’ within buildings and organisations where access was restricted to their opening hours; and the 24-hour public defibrillators were not sign posted.
Furthermore, new defibrillators were being added without much consideration to their strategic location, sometimes resulting in a ‘gluttony’ of defibrillators in one area and an absence in another. Lack of registration of defibrillators with the NHS was also a problem.
A small working group initially met to review the situation. It became clear that whilst there were a number of charities in existence that provided defibrillators and/or training in their use, there was no provision in the community to direct the public to where the nearest defibrillator was located.
What was needed was greater signage directing people to the nearest defibrillator and, through a coordinated awareness programme, greater public confidence to use such life-saving equipment. Additional defibrillators may still be required, however, consideration had to be given to relocating existing defibrillators so that they were available to the public 24 hours.
For this to be truly successful local knowledge and support was required; it had to be more than simply engagement with the local community – it had to be community led. Only in this way would this necessary provision be implemented across the country in an acceptable timeframe.
Although community led, it was recognised that each community required priming for action and once motivated needed to be supported by the 3Ms of management, method and materials. That is, willing communities had to be supported through good governance, efficient processes and consistent branding and materials.
This gave birth to Heartbeat Trust UK.