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Hundreds of checks needed on life-saving defibrillators as cold weather causes battery fault

PUBLISHED: 06:35 15 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:27 23 February 2018

Martin Fagan, from Community Heartbeat (centre), said defibrillators needed to be checked regularly. This one installed in Cawston in 2013 is regularly checked and has no issues. Picture: Denise Bradley

Martin Fagan, from Community Heartbeat (centre), said defibrillators needed to be checked regularly. This one installed in Cawston in 2013 is regularly checked and has no issues. Picture: Denise Bradley

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They are the vital life-saving machines that thousands of East Anglian communities rallied to buy.

The iPad SP1 defibrillator.  Photo: Souseiki89 via Wikimedia CommonsThe iPad SP1 defibrillator. Photo: Souseiki89 via Wikimedia Commons

But today we can reveal that some of the “heart-start” defibrillators could fail to work at a time of crisis - because of a problem with battery temperature.

Thousands of the machines will need to be checked after several had problems with the battery, including one where a man died.

The cold has been blamed for causing problems with the batteries on iPad SP1 defibrillators in two cases.

The supplier and ambulance service said the problem is fixed when the battery warms up.

Defibrillators have been installed in Co-op stores across Norfolk and Suffolk in secure, heated cabinets. Picture: Co-opDefibrillators have been installed in Co-op stores across Norfolk and Suffolk in secure, heated cabinets. Picture: Co-op

Supplier Wel Medical pointed out that all defibrillators have batteries which can suffer in cold weather and all needed to be kept in heated cabinets.

They said that of the eight iPad SP1 defibrillators they had tested with reported battery problems, two had been caused by cold weather, four had flat batteries, one was defected and one had a reported fault which could not be found.

The devices save lives of those having heart attacks by sending an electric shock to the heart. They have been put in thousands of towns and villages across East Anglia.

But those who are responsible for them are being warned they need to check them every week and make sure the battery is charged.

The devices can save lives in an emergency. Photo: CHRIS TAYLORThe devices can save lives in an emergency. Photo: CHRIS TAYLOR

Ryan Pedley tried to use a defibrillator to save a man who had collapsed in the Fens village of Benwick before Christmas.

But when the 17-year old got the defibrillator from Benwick Primary School it did not work – the battery displayed as flat.

His mum Wendy said: “My son watched this gentleman pass away and is so very angry that because of a low battery he was not able to at least try to save a life.”

Ryan, a sixth form student at Cromwell Community College in Chatteris, was driving to school when he saw the man fall into a hedge on December 15.

Guidance from the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) and suppliers Wel Medical warning about the defibrillator batteries. Image: EEASTGuidance from the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) and suppliers Wel Medical warning about the defibrillator batteries. Image: EEAST

Mrs Pedley said: “My son went to fetch the defibrillator from the village school.

“The defibrillator was actually on the patient, ready to be used, but unfortunately it said low battery so was not able to be used.

“It is devastating. He would like some answers as to why the battery was flat.

“Did someone just not bother to maintain it or was there a fault with it?”

The defibrillator was put in at the school in 2015. It has now been removed and is being checked by the supplier Wel Medical.

Jonathan Gilbrook, director of Wel Medical, warned that communities which installed defibrillators had to maintain them.

“Until relatively recently, defibrillators were really only purchased by medical professionals who would look after the devices like they would any other piece of life saving equipment,” he said.

“Now the devices are becoming commonplace in all walks of life and are almost becoming a consumer item.

“As such they are not always looked after with such a strict care regime. This is a challenge that faces all manufacturers.”

He said cold temperatures could mean the battery on iPad SP1 defibrillators temporarily looked like it had lost power, but the power returned once the battery was warm again.

Mr Gilbrook added they were concerned about the battery problem and were working with the manufacturer.

Wel Medical and the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) have sent out guidance warning that the batteries can have “flaws”.

The guidance warns that the devices’ operating temperature is above zero degrees and defibrillators should be brought inside for several hours after cold nights, or put in heated cabinets outside.

Ambulance staff have checked about half of their 1,000 iPad SP1 defibrillators, which cost around £1,000 each.

Nine have been found with problems and the other half should be checked by the end of next week.

Steven Catley, from EEAST, said: “Any units that have been identified as faulty have been returned to the supplier, with loan units installed in their place.”

But that only includes defibrillators the ambulance service is responsible for and not the hundreds of others put in by volunteers or community groups. Martin Fagan, from charity the Community Heartbeat Trust which supplies defibrillators to communities, said: “Whilst it is great to have a defibrillator in the community, this is not the whole story, as they have to be one part of a bigger picture to be of any use.

“These medical devices need regular checks and maintenance to work, to reduce the liability for the equipment owner.”

The battery problems have also been reported to regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). But they were unable to say anything because of “confidentiality”.

•Following this article we received the following letter from Mr Gilbrook

I am writing following the publication of your article “Hundreds of checks needed on life-saving defibrillators as cold weather causes battery fault” on February 15.

Fundamentally I am in support of your article since it highlights to the general public that defibrillators are life-saving pieces of equipment and whilst they can be considered maintenance free, they still need to be checked and looked after properly, with consumable items replaced as necessary.

The East of England region has benefited from thousands of defibrillators thanks to the Ambulance Service and also thanks to the efforts of hundreds of private individuals, many of whom have been driven to help save lives through personal tragedy.

I think that they should be congratulated for what they have done so far. Many lives have already been saved by these public access defibrillators and also by Community First Responders who also carry defibrillators.

The issue highlighted by your article is a challenge faced by all manufacturers of defibrillators that use Lithium battery technology and is not unique to the iPAD SP1.

In your region WEL Medical won the contract to supply the defibrillators, therefore it is of no surprise that our defibrillator has been highlighted in your article.

Different manufacturers’ defibrillators have been placed in other parts of the UK and we are aware that similar issues regarding battery temperature have been experienced.

Defibrillator operating manuals state their working temperatures and to my knowledge none of them will work below freezing point.

From well over a thousand iPAD SP1’s supplied in the East of England, only two of them have been found to have temporarily stopped working due to the battery getting too cold.

I therefore urge any of your readers who are responsible for a defibrillator of any make to ensure that it is stored somewhere where it is not exposed to excessively cold or hot temperatures and to check it regularly and frequently.

Various defibrillator cabinets have been launched into the marketplace in recent years. There appears to be a vast difference in the price and quality of them. There is a reason for this price difference. Buying a good quality defibrillator is important, equally so is buying a good quality cabinet to protect your defibrillator. The Ambulance Service and The British Heart Foundation are an excellent source of advice.

We have set up a dedicated email address for any reader would like any specific advice or has a query, or they can contact us via our website and we will do our utmost to assist them.

Jonathan Gilbrook,

Director, WEL Medical Limited,

Chancerygate Way, Farnborough, Hampshire.

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