Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013

Wednesday, 19th June 2013

I would also like to heap praise on Senator Quinn regarding the Bill he has introduced. I am supportive of this initiative. I understand the Minister for Health wants to conduct a technical assessment but he did not outline a timeframe. I am always concerned when Ministers do not outline a timeframe. Perhaps it could be completed before we return in September and we could then complete the passage of the Bill. I am sure Senator Quinn would give it the summer to allow that to take place.

The Bill represents a powerful legislative platform to ensure many more lives are saved through bystander CPR and early defibrillation. This is important, given that an estimated 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease, of which almost half are from sudden cardiac death. A total of 70% of these deaths occur outside hospital. The survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest was 6.5% in 2012. This figure can and must be improved upon. International comparisons show that higher rates can be achieved, particularly when the equipment and training are in place to ensure early recognition, early CPR and early defibrillation. Survival rates in Norway, Sweden and Denmark are 13%, 11% and 9%, respectively. Even higher rates have been recorded in the Netherlands, where research over a three-year period to 2009 showed that neurologically intact survival was 49.6% for patients treated with an on-site defibrillator compared with 14.3% where there was no defibrillator. Perhaps this will help the Minister with his research. I fully support the efforts made in this Bill to achieve a survival rate of 40%.

Legislating to provide more defibrillators is a vital prerequisite to increasing the life-saving role of bystander CPR. Like others, I commend the excellent work of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Chain of Survival initiative, which comprises four vital links that can save a life: early access; early cardiopulmonary resuscitation; early defibrillation; and early advanced care. In addition to overseeing training in the initiative, the IHF provides significant assistance enabling communities and organisations throughout Ireland to maximise early CPR and defibrillation. The foundation has unrivalled expertise in the practical operation of the efforts we are discussing.

Senator Brennan and others mentioned that the presence of a defibrillator often creates demand for training on how it use it and, therefore, helps to create knowledge. It is important to ensure that through regulations there is adequate, ongoing and certified training. Everybody knows how important it is to regularly update training in the workplace and so on. Knowledge is power. We need to hardwire knowledge of CPR into the public consciousness by including a CPR training module in the school curriculum. This would save many more lives. I am a girl guide leader and we include it in our training. Everybody engaged in youth work and sports should include CPR in training. Young people who aim to be leaders in these organisations should have access to this knowledge. We should share such knowledge, because who knows when we will need to put it into practice?

I raised an Adjournment matter with the Minister for Health last week relating to National Stroke Awareness Week. This year’s focus is on the IHF’s Act FAST campaign, which was launched in 2010 to increase public awareness about the early signs of stroke and to encourage speedy medical intervention. During the debate, I referred, in addition to financial assistance, to other supports at the disposal of the State, such as the provision of advertising sites in high-footfall areas of Government buildings and property and consideration of a way to reimburse the 23% the foundation has to pay in non-returnable VAT for the campaign, which is proving not only to save lives and improve quality of life but also to save the State money.

There is also a VAT argument to be made regarding defibrillators. There is an anomaly in our taxation system whereby an individual can get a tax rebate of 23% on the purchase of a defibrillator whereas a sporting organisation or club of volunteers cannot. This needs to be rectified. I appreciate the anomaly is rooted in VAT law but I would like to know what is being considered in the context of existing taxation law to address this issue. I will continue to pursue this issue where the State charges VAT when it is saving money because NGOs, sporting and youth organisations and civil society organisations are doing its job and saving lives in some cases. I commend Senator Quinn on this initiative, which I fully support.

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