What you need to know before you obtain a defibrillator

What is an automated external defibrillator (AED)?

An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is a portable life saving device that delivers an electric shock to the heart when someone has a cardiac arrest, and their heart isn’t beating normally. A defibrillator, paired with effective CPR, is the only treatment for cardiac arrest.

A defibrillator is able to analyse the heart rhythm through the electrode pads placed on the patients’ chest, and determines whether a shock is required to ‘restart’ the heart back into a more natural rhythm. Defibrillators can be used by anyone - trained or not - and can be used on adults or children over one year old. The quicker you can access a defibrillator and provide treatment to someone who has had a cardiac arrest, the better the chance of survival. This is why it’s so important that defibrillators are available wherever you are, and that more bystanders are willing to attempt CPR when someone collapses.

When should you use a defibrillator?

A defibrillator should be used when someone has a cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest occurs when someone’s heart has stopped beating normally, they are unresponsive and not breathing. A defibrillator will not deliver a shock if the patient doesn’t need one - ie. they are breathing and their heart is beating regularly.

Why is a defibrillator so important? 

As we mentioned previously, a defibrillator is the only way to treat a cardiac arrest. And cardiac arrests don’t discriminate - they can happen to anyone, often without warning. Survival rates decrease rapidly for every minute the goes by without treatment, and after just 10 minutes, resuscitation becomes very unlikely.

However, using a defibrillator within three minutes of a cardiac arrest can improve a person's chance of survival as much as 70% which undoubtedly makes all the difference when it comes to saving a life.

How much does a defibrillator cost?

We firmly believe you’d be hard pressed to make a more important investment than a lifesaving defibrillator, but we understand for some people, it may seem an expensive purchase. Typically, a defibrillator can cost anything between £800 to £2,500 for higher end models. There are a number of factors to consider before making a decision on which make and model of defibrillator you should buy.

All defibrillators we sell come with audio instructions to guide you through every step of the rescue process, so you can focus on the patient. Defibrillators can either be semi automatic or fully automatic. Semi automatic defibrillators require you to press a button to actually administer the shock, whereas (and you might have guessed!) fully automatic defibrillators administer a shock without the need for user intervention.

Most defibrillators also perform their own daily, weekly and monthly self diagnostic tests to ensure they are fully functional without any major faults. You should still assign someone to check your defibrillator regularly though - most defibrillators will alert you to a fault either by emitting a sound or displaying icons on an LCD screen. It’s important to read your user manual to become familiar with your defibrillator so you feel comfortable with it and can recognise any fault indicators.

Defibrillators usually come with some protection from dust and water damage, so the environment you will be placing your defibrillator in may help you make a decision on which defibrillator you buy. Some defibs also have LCD screens for visual instructions, feedback on CPR as you are performing compressions so that you know you’re doing it effectively or ECG displays on higher end, professional models.

It may seem like a lot to think about, so we’ve put together a list to help you decide which option would be best for your place of work, home or community:

◦ Who is likely to need the defibrillator – some defibrillators require you to use paediatric pads especially made for use on children, or to switch the defib from adult to paediatric mode with a key. Remember - even if you don’t have paediatric pads, you can still use adult pads on a child if necessary.

◦ Storing your defibrillator – if your defibrillator is going to remain at a fixed-location it should be stored in a cabinet or on a wall bracket, with appropriate signage to ensure it is highly visible to anyone who may need it

◦ CPR and defibrillator training – You don’t have to be formally trained to use a defibrillator, but it’s definitely worthwhile familiarising yourself with the device so that you feel that you can use it confidently. You will also still need to perform CPR to ensure the best chance of survival for someone who has had a cardiac arrest, so it is important to know how to do this. Again, it’s a skill that anyone can learn, you can learn it about an hour. We provide free training when you obtain a defibrillator through us.

◦ Educating your community – A defibrillator is no good to anyone if nobody knows where it is or how to access it. Make sure your colleagues and local community members are aware of the defibrillator, its location, how to access it, and how to use it.

How much does a defibrillator cost to maintain?

Replacement defibrillator pads and batteries can cost anything from £20 to £300 depending on the make and model. Batteries last a good few years if the defibrillator is well looked after, and pads must be replaced after every use, or when they expire. Pads will have a date somewhere on the packaging, so you know when you will need to think about getting another set. Factors such as the weather can affect the battery life and the efficacy of the pads, so if you live in an area that is particularly cold, and your defibrillator is kept in an outdoor cabinet, make sure you check the cabinet regularly too to ensure the heater is working, and the cabinet is free from water damage.

Where possible, we recommend you make your defibrillator accessible 24/7 by placing it in an outdoor wall cabinet. The running costs of an outdoor cabinet are estimated at around £30 per year as electricity is required to heat the cabinet.

Should I place my defibrillator in a locked or unlocked cabinet?

The guidance on this varies between different ambulance trusts across the country, so you may want to check with them and get their advice on it beforehand. We believe that since every minute is precious when someone has a cardiac arrest, having a locked cabinet can cause delays in accessing the defibrillator, so it makes sense to have an unlocked cabinet so it can be retrieved as quickly as possible. However, sometimes unfortunately, defibrillators can be a target for vandals so you may want to consider what is best for your area. Some cabinets are alarmed which sounds when the door is opened so this may be a good choice if you are worried about vandalism.

If you decide to go for a locked cabinet, ensure you register for defibrillator with your local ambulance service so that they know the access pin code, and can provide it to someone when they call 999 in an emergency.

What else should I keep with a defibrillator?

Defibrillators often come with a rescue kit which includes:

◦ A towel, tissues, or wipes to dry the casualty’s chest if it is wet or sweaty. If you have a towel/tissues, this can be used to cover the patient’s mouth, as per current CPR Covid guidelines.

◦ A razor to shave the casualty’s chest - there is no need to waste too much time on this though, it’s only necessary if the patient’s hair interferes with the electrode pads adhesive.

◦ Scissors to cut the patients’ clothing.

◦ A face shield for use with CPR - due to the Covid pandemic, it is not advised to provide rescue breaths.

We hope this guide has helped make your decision easier but if you’d just like more information or advice, please get in touch with us.

Apply for a lifesaving defibrillator today.