Over 600 automated external defibrillators (AEDs), used by venues nationwide such as schools, hotels and shopping centres, are in need of urgent updates or they may not work correctly in the event of an emergency, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) has warned.
An AED is a device that administers an electric shock to a person who has suffered a cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest refers to the sudden loss of function of the heart. It occurs when there is an abrupt disturbance in the heart's rhythm. This can cause the heart to stop beating altogether, or to stop beating enough to keep a person alive.
A person whose heart has stopped beating will fall unconscious and stop breathing normally. If they do not get immediate medical assistance, sudden cardiac death will follow. Some 5,000 people die as a result of this every year in Ireland and 70% of these deaths occur outside of hospital.
In recent years, AEDs have been installed in many places where large groups of people tend to gather, such as shopping centres, sports clubs, community centres and schools.
However, according to the HPRA, an estimated 614 AEDs, which are made by four different manufacturers, require urgent updates in Ireland. This is to ensure that they work correctly in an emergency situation. With these updates, the devices may not work as intended.
The affected devices may require a software upgrade, similar to upgrading software on a smartphone or computer, or they may require the replacement of a component part within the AED.
The HPRA made a similar announcement in November 2017, stating that almost 600 AEDs needed updates. Since then, 95 AEDs have had their updates completed, but the authority is now calling on other owners of these devices to follow suit.
"We are urging owners of AEDs to be vigilant and to check if they have one of the affected AEDs and, if they do, to liaise with manufacturers to ensure the devices are updated without delay. This year, 614 AEDs in Ireland require an urgent update, without which the devices may not perform in a life-threatening emergency," explained Anne Tobin of the HPRA.
She emphasised that even if an AED has been updated, it is essential that it is stored and maintained appropriately.
"Particularly during winter months, these devices may be affected by dropping temperatures and environmental conditions, so it is particularly important at this time of year to ensure devices are stored and maintained well. It is important to know the age and expected lifespan of your AED device and consider if or when it may need to be replaced," Ms Tobin noted.
Anyone in possession of an AED which needs to be updated should contact the manufacturer or the HPRA to organise this.
"This action could be the difference between life and death for whomever next requires treatment with the AED. These devices offer an important first response intervention and we know that the majority of cardiac arrests occur outside of the healthcare environment," Ms Tobin added.
More information on AEDs is available on the HPRA website here