How defibrillator access varies across the Fens and East Cambridgeshire
- Credit: Facebook/Tottenham Hotspur
Like millions of football fans around the world, Cllr Rob Skoulding was watching the Euro 2020 game when Christian Eriksen had a cardiac arrest on the pitch.
The former March mayor said: “I couldn’t work out why he had fallen over so suddenly.
“Here was this young fit athlete; the last thing you’d expect is for him to have a cardiac arrest during an international game.
“But it can happen to anyone, at any time.”
Danish footballer Eriksen was resuscitated on the pitch using the same CPR techniques and specialist medical equipment that saved Rob’s life earlier this year.
He had a heart attack in public, and luckily his wife Laura was with him at the time and recognised the signs.
She had taken part in a training course that Rob had organised as part of a drive to get defibrillators installed across March – and performed CPR on her own husband.
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Medics soon arrived with a defibrillator and Rob was taken to hospital.
He said: “Every minute that passes, there’s a seven per cent chance the patient won’t survive. The sooner someone can get help, the better.
“I am living proof CPR and defibrillators work, and so is this footballer now.”
There are 37 defibrillators in March, Rob has helped provide 27 of them. The equipment supplied from his efforts is publicly available and registered with the ambulance service.
This means when someone dials 999 for a patient suspected of having a cardiac arrest, they are told where their nearest public defibrillator is and given a code to access it.
Rob has also helped to get a defibrillator for Estover Playing Field, March.
His overall goal is for everyone in March to live within three minutes of a defibrillator. To achieve that, the town will need to have 50.
But the density of registered defibrillators varies across the region.
Whittlesey and the surrounding villages have more than March at 48, according to the charity Defibrillators for All which is based in the town.
Its founder Deborah Slator said they're about to give another 15 to households in rural areas and these will be available from their homes.
Meanwhile, there are 10 around Wisbech, one of which the town council says is outside Boots in the Horse Fair.
In Ely, there are just four. Some villages also have one.
Workplaces or public buildings may have their own defibrillators but, for example, if they’re not open 24-7 they are not always available for public use.
Both Wisbech Town Council and Ely City Council say they are keen to have more installed.
Cllr Sue Austen, the Mayor of Ely, said: “We do have more in the pipeline and these will be at The Maltings, Oliver Cromwell’s House and at The Maltings Cottage in the next few months.
“The funding is there and we’re now going through the procedures to ensure they’re properly registered for public use.”
Community champions who understand why defibrillators are essential and are passionate about getting them installed are key.
Jacqueline Whipp is a community first responder and, like Rob in March and Deborah in Whittlesey, has helped both Soham and Burwell secure five defibrillators each.
She said: “It’s easy to think that once a defibrillator is installed, that’s it. They can be left and are just there to be used in case of an emergency.
"But sponsorship is needed because there’s ongoing maintenance costs and the equipment needs to be checked regularly.
“Training on how to use one and CPR is also a good idea. In the situation of a cardiac arrest, time is of the essence and it’s key the patient gets treatment, and fast.”
What happened to Christian Eriksen during the Denmark vs Sweden game has made many sports clubs revisit their own defibrillators.
Paul Brenchley, Chairman of Wisbech Town Football Club, said: “It certainly jogged us into getting ours overhauled.
“It was donated to us some years ago and is going to be looked over in time for the friendlies which start in July.
“Of course, you hope you’ll never need to use it but it has to be in good working order and reliable just in case.
“We’re also looking at getting it fixed to the wall on the inside of the tunnel at the ground so if, heaven forbid, it is ever needed it's kept there.”
He added: “We could put it outside and made publicly available but unfortunately defibrillators do tend to get vandalised.”