Author: Julie Hughes
Survival rates in Australia of cardiac arrest are disgustingly low – less than 10% of those who have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital will survive. Literally thousands of individuals are losing their life unnecessarily. What are we doing wrong?
In Australia, we have high-quality healthcare and emergency response systems as well as world leading Cardiologists and medical professionals – supported by advanced medical technology.
State and Local Government agencies are supporting the increased first aid response of their communities by investing in defibrillators through various grant funding and within certain sectors – NSW Office of Sport has part funded over 1,500 defibrillators to sports clubs across NSW over the past three years.
Defibrillator and first aid providers are actively (and competitively) working to increase the medical response of individuals in Australia whilst supporting the Call Push Shock messaging of Restart a Heart Day.
The community, our biggest resource in the response to cardiac arrest, is seeing momentum towards increased knowledge of the signs of cardiac arrest (unconscious and not breathing) and investing more in first aid training and in lifesaving defibrillators for their communities. With personalities like the Yellow Wiggle Greg Page and Rugby League great Garry Jack both suffering a cardiac arrest, it hits home to the realities that it can happen to anyone and at any time.
There is so much activity within this country focussed on cardiac arrest but survival rates remain staggeringly low, at the same level when Kerry Packer suffered a cardiac arrest whilst playing polo in the early 1990s. This is even after his financial support to the NSW State Government for defibrillators for every Ambulance in the State (they were commonly referred to as the Packer Wackers).
There are multiple issues which are stopping a more positive outcome for victims of cardiac arrest but they can be linked back to three major factors, namely time, lack of collaboration & leadership and technology.
So what is the answer?
The response to cardiac arrest is extremely fragmented. Heart Safe Communities is a framework that can be implemented and “Australianised” to provide solutions and like the Cardiac Chain of Survival, creates a team effort. It focusses on all aspects of the response required… not just one part. It is being implemented sporadically across Australia and in most cases, by passionate individuals who have seen a need to act.
By developing programs based on the HeartSafe Communities framework:
Time can be dramatically decreased by enabling better communication channels for bystanders to act quickly – ie recognise a cardiac arrest, call 000, commence CPR and access and utilise available defibrillators that are in residential, commercial and community spaces.
Collaboration can be increased. All programs must be supported by the Government and linked to Ambulance services in each state. We require leadership and collaboration at a state government level to implement a holistic approach and bring all parties together for a common pathway. States themselves can learn from each other and foster a national approach.
Technology systems can be implemented to support the process of a medical response. Technology can increase communication channels, registration and mapping of existing defibrillators, provide links to 000 operators and provide valuable support to bystanders and victims of cardiac arrest. Technology and data can be used for ongoing developments and improvement processes.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer or silver bullet! We know that all strategies require a long focus for improvement.
As a Foundation, we are utilising internationally recognised frameworks and implementing them locally. We recognise the benefits of our community engagement initiatives and working at a State level. We are hands on and we take great learnings from all individuals we meet. Our training and education services increase knowledge and confidence and although it is labour intensive, we know the long-term benefits.
Our Foundation is very clear on our mission and vision in New South Wales and we strongly advocate for:
- Government frameworks to support communities respond to cardiac arrest.
- Registration of defibrillators for increased access and support for maintenance
- Good Sam technology for increased communication and response strategies
- Enhancing the abilities and links to NSW Ambulance for all initiatives
- Creating minimum Australian standards to be set on HeartSafe Communities.
Our Foundation will continue our commitment to this health issue and to the development of HeartSafe Communities. We are proud of our collaborations and to be focussed on finding solutions to the issues that matter.
About this Article
Julie Hughes, Executive Director, contributed to the March 2021 Edition of First on behalf of The Council of Ambulance Authorities. Julie wrote an opinion piece on Heart Safe Communities. The Michael Hughes Foundation is developing HeartSafe communities in Melrose Park and City of Parramatta Council. Julie is a member of the NSW Health Expert Group – Prevention of Premature Cardiac Mortality.