The use of a defibrillator on cardiac arrest patients, prior to the arrival of ambulance crews, is vital in improving cardiac arrest survival rates, a report published today by South East Coast Ambulance Service, (SECAmb), shows.

The report, which looks at out-of-hospital cardiac arrests attended by SECAmb between April 2022 and March 2023, reveals that if a defibrillator is used prior to its arrival, the average time to shock a patient is more than four minutes quicker than when the first shock is delivered by ambulance teams.

And remarkably, of those patients successfully resuscitated prior to ambulance arrival by shocks from a defibrillator, who did not rearrest, all survived at least 30 days.

In the year covered by the report, SECAmb attended a total of 8,824 cardiac arrest patients, and it was viable to commence resuscitation attempts on 2,891 people (33 per cent of patients).

Despite the challenging environment faced by ambulance services during the period, a Return of Spontaneous Circulation or ROSC was maintained to hospital 27 per cent of the time, while 9.5 per cent of patients’ lives were saved (271 people were alive 30 days after their cardiac arrest).

While the percentage of survivors is slightly down on the 11 per cent revealed in the previous year’s report, the total is still the second highest reported in SECAmb and is 1.5 per cent higher than the national average of eight per cent for the period.

Cardiac arrest survivors are found to have a number of predominant features related to their arrest; they are more likely to have someone witness their collapse or have been found early, more likely to have CPR performed, and to have presented in a shockable rhythm.

Key to early CPR and defibrillation is the attendance of SECAmb’s more than 400-strong team of volunteer Community First Responders, (CFRs), who are trained by SECAmb to respond to emergencies. CFRs respond in areas where they live and work, meaning they can often be at the scene of an emergency before ambulance crews. More here:

CFRs, who are equipped with defibrillators, were on scene in nine per cent of resuscitation attempts in the period covered by the report or 255 incidents. CFRs were first on scene in 45% of those incidents, reducing response times to patients in cardiac arrest by close to five minutes.

The report also reveals:

  • On average, SECAmb attended 735 cardiac arrests each month – close to one every hour.
  • 79 per cent of patients received CPR from a bystander prior to ambulance arrival
  • 259 defibrillators were used before ambulance arrival, (10 per cent)
  • 80 per cent of cardiac arrests occurred at home or at a private address
  • 9 per cent of patients were aged under 40
  • 50 per cent were patients were aged over 70
  • 66 per cent of resus attempts were on males, with a median age of 69
  • 34 per cent of resus attempts were on females, with a median age of 71

SECAmb Consultant Paramedic, Dan Cody, said: “We are committed to improving our cardiac arrest survival rates as we recognise that they are still some way behind the highest rates seen internationally, but we are pleased SECAmb continues to perform above the national average.

“There are a number of key factors vital to improving out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival, including increasing community engagement in learning CPR and increasing the availability of Public Access Defibrillators. We must also continue to ensure we are maximising the benefits our volunteer CFRs bring to improve response times to cardiac arrest patients.

“As we continue to study and improve our response to cardiac arrests, I would urge everyone to take the time to learn CPR. Your actions could prove vital to a person’s survival and mean a loved one is able to spend many more years with their family and friends.”

The report, featuring five stories of cardiac arrest survivors SECAmb has reunited with ambulance teams, is available to download in full here: 2022-23-SECAmb-Annual-Cardiac-Arrest-Report-final.pdf

The Resuscitation Council has created a “CPQR code” – a heart shaped QR code that directs people to a short video on how to do CPR.

The British Heart Foundation has an online training tool, RevivR, a free and easy-to-use 15-minute training course –

Face-to-face first aid and CPR courses can also be booked through St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross.