Image of Using defibrillators in schools in line with legal requirements

Using defibrillators in schools in line with legal requirements

In a government update published on 25 July 2023, it advised that following its £19 million rollout, more than 20,000 defibrillators have been delivered to nearly 18,000 schools since January.  In this blog, Samantha Kendall, a highly qualified first aider and emergency medical technician with over seven years’ frontline ambulance experience, offers insight into the government’s commitment to ensuring that every state school receives a defibrillator.

What is an automated external defibrillator and what does it do?

An automated external defibrillator is also known as an AED or defib. Defibrillators are important in schools because they can save the lives of pupils, staff and visitors who suffer from a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), which is a condition where the heart stops beating normally and blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

SCA is the leading cause of death in the UK and the leading killer of school-aged children. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, regardless of their age, gender, or fitness level. When SCA strikes, every second counts. The longer it takes to receive treatment, the lower the chances of survival. AEDs are easy to use, portable and designed to be used by anyone, regardless of their medical training.

According to research, accessing a defibrillator within 3-5 minutes of a cardiac arrest increases the chance of survival by up to 75%. This is especially important in schools, where children and young people may be at risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) due to undiagnosed heart conditions, physical exertion, or trauma.

Defibrillators can also benefit the wider community, as they can be used by anyone in an emergency situation near the school premises. They are designed to have a clear voice and visual instructions, and some models are fully automatic and do not require the user to press a button to deliver the shock.

Why is there a campaign for defibrillators in schools?

As part of the government's plans to make sure there is a device in every school, state-funded schools in England will receive a defibrillator by the end of the 22/23 academic year. This follows campaigning from the Oliver King Foundation and its founder Mark King, who has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the need for defibrillators since he tragically lost his son at the age of 12 as the result of a cardiac arrest while swimming at school.

This will build on existing requirements for schools to teach first aid and CPR as part of the curriculum. The government has provided guidance on how schools can buy, install, and maintain an AED. They are currently available for schools and other education providers in the UK to purchase through the NHS supply chain at a reduced cost.

The DfE also encourages schools to have a clear plan in place for responding to cardiac emergencies. This includes having designated staff members who are responsible for calling emergency services, performing CPR, and using the AED.

What are the legal requirements for schools?

There is currently no legislation in the UK that requires defibrillators to be provided in workplaces or public areas, except for schools, which are expected to have at least one defibrillator on site by the end of the 22/23 academic year.The deliveries of the first defibrillators mark the start of a roll-out of over 20,000 defibrillators to almost 18,000 state-funded schools by the end of the academic year.

It is important to note that the legal requirement for defibrillators in schools only applies to state-funded schools in England. Private schools and schools in other parts of the UK may have different requirements or recommendations regarding defibrillators.

The government is also supporting schools to make defibrillators available to the community, with external, heated defibrillator cabinets provided to primary and special schools in areas where provision is lower. An internal cabinet is also being provided to secondary schools that are receiving two or more defibrillators, so one can be placed at the school’s sports facility, where a cardiac arrest is more likely to happen.

Once a school receives a defibrillator, they should consider training, accessibility, and maintenance requirements. The Health & Safety Executive recommends that those who may need to use a defibrillator should be trained, as this can provide additional knowledge and skills, and may promote greater confidence in using the device. The employer should also ensure that the defibrillator is kept in a visible and accessible location, regularly checked, and maintained, and registered with the local ambulance service.

How to access a defibrillator through the government scheme:

In order to access the government scheme and prepare for any eventuality, these are the steps that need to be followed:

  • Complete the online survey that will be sent to all state-funded schools in England to confirm whether you have an existing defibrillator or not, and how many devices you need for your school site
  • Wait for the confirmation email from the DfE that will provide you with a unique code and a link to the NHS supply chain website, where you can order your defibrillator(s) at a reduced cost
  • Order your defibrillator(s) from the NHS supply chain website using your unique code and pay the delivery fee of £25 per device. You can also order additional accessories, such as cabinets, pads and batteries, at your own cost
  • Receive your defibrillator(s) within 10 working days of placing your order and install them in a visible and accessible location on your school premises. You can also register your defibrillator(s) with the local ambulance service and The Circuit, the national defibrillator network, to make it available to the community in case of an emergency
  • Train your staff and pupils on how to use the defibrillator(s) and perform CPR, which is a technique that can keep blood and oxygen flowing to the brain and other vital organs until an AED or medical help arrives. You can find online training resources or book instructor-led courses from various organisations, such as Kendall Training, and, for awareness training, watch the ’Certificate in Automated External Defibrillator Awareness’ which I deliver in conjunction with The National College

Using an AED in an emergency

  • Call 999 and ask for an ambulance
  • Start CPR and get someone to bring the AED
  • Turn on the AED by pressing the green button and follow its voice and visual instructions
  • Peel off the sticky pads and attach them to the patient's skin, one on each side of the chest, as shown in the picture on the AED. This may be front and back of the patient if it’s a small child. (Please see your defib for instructions)
  • Once the pads have been attached, stop CPR and don't touch the patient. The AED will analyse the heart rhythm and tell you if a shock is needed or not
  • If a shock is needed, make sure no one is touching the patient, and press the orange button to deliver the shock. If the AED is fully automatic, it will deliver the shock by itself
  • After the shock, the AED will tell you to resume CPR. Continue until the ambulance arrives or the patient shows signs of life, such as breathing normally, coughing or moving

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.