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

PUBLISHED: 07:58 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:23 20 February 2018

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Hundreds of defibrillators in communities across East Anglia will have to be checked for battery failures after several had problems, including one where a man from Cambridgeshire died.

An iPad SP1 defibrillator. Photo: Souseiki89 via Wikimedia CommonsAn iPad SP1 defibrillator. Photo: Souseiki89 via Wikimedia Commons

Cold weather has been blamed for causing problems with the battery of the iPad SP1 defibrillators.

The supplier and ambulance service said the fault is fixed when the battery is warmed up.

At least nine iPad SP1 defibrillators, which cost around £1,000 each, have been reported to the ambulance service as having a battery problem in cold weather.

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

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

But those who are responsible for them are being warned they also need to check them every week and may need to warm up the battery in cold weather to stop it appearing to be flat.

Ryan Pedley, 17, tried to use a defibrillator to save a man who had collapsed in Benwick, near Ramsey, 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.

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 check and 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 meant the battery on iPad SP1 defibrillators temporarily looked like it had lost power, but the power returned once the battery was warmed up.

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 to communities warning that the batteries on the devices can have “flaws”.

The ambulance service has provided 1,000 defibrillators across the region and Steven Catley, from EEAST, said they were aware of a “very small number” with battery problems.

“Any units that have been identified as faulty have been returned to the supplier, with loan units installed in their place,” he said. “The units supported by EEAST are having their batteries and defibrillator pads checked as part of an ongoing audit process.”

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 government regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

But they said they were unable to say anything because of “confidentiality”.

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