Following contact with a constituent recently raising the case of an elderly lady who had been left to wait on the pavement for an ambulance in Ludlow, I have been taking a closer look into both ambulance response times and the way in which we can better treat stroke and heart attacks before an ambulance is able to arrive.
We all know living in a rural area means it will take longer for an ambulance to reach us. But I am pleased latest figures show West Midlands Ambulance Service has one of the best response times in the country to Category 1 calls, i.e. life-threatening emergencies, with only London and the North East performing better. West Midlands Ambulance Service also performs well across the board, when compared with other ambulance services.
I have been on board an ambulance with WMAS for a shift in the past, so know how hard the crews work to get to every emergency as quickly as possible and provide the care needed.
But as we are all well aware, the minutes after a heart attack are critical in improving chances of survival. There are steps we can all take to give lifesaving treatment before an ambulance can arrive, but according to the British Red Cross, just 5 per cent of adults have the skills and confidence to provide first aid in emergency situations. So I am this month taking a refresher course on how to use effectively a community defibrillator and CPR, having first taken the course some years ago when the first community defibrillators arrived.
Since then there has been a very welcome roll out of community defibrillators across the county, progressing at pace. In South Shropshire, schools, village halls and other community buildings have had defibrillators installed, and I have visited disused telephone boxes repurposed to house defibrillators in remote hamlets. While it can be helpful to know how the defibrillator works in advance, 999 operators are able to talk callers through use of the machine to those who are unfamiliar with it.
The government is building on this progress, and by September 2020 all schools, including academies and free schools, will be required to teach first aid and life-saving skills, meaning that by the time a pupil completes secondary school they will have been taught how to administer CPR, as well as about the purpose of defibrillators, and basic treatment for common injuries. So a new generation of lifesavers will develop over time.
To help with rollout of defibrillators in schools, the Department for Education negotiated a deal with NHS Supply Chain to offer defibrillators at a reduced cost. Since this scheme was launched in November 2014, more than 2,763 defibrillators have been purchased this way.
Better treatment in the community, including by paramedics in ambulances, has meant deaths related to stroke have declined 49% in the past 15 years, but the survival rate for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is still less than one in ten. I am hopeful that wider knowledge about CPR, and proliferation of more defibrillators across South Shropshire, will give the best possible chance of saving the lives of those who have heart attacks.