The simplicity of station defibrillators

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

While not cheap, defibrillators can be a life-saving piece of kit at stations. Natalie Loughborough, customer service director at Northern Rail, explains the many benefits of these simple and safe to use devices for operators.

When people suffer from a cardiac arrest in a public place – far from a hospital or in remote locations – their best, and often only, chance of survival can be a public access defibrillator (PAD). The small electronic device, simple to use and easily accessible, provides an electric shock that helps bring a victim’s heart rhythm back to normal. 

These can be found in many public buildings and spaces, including shopping centres, gyms, town halls and, yes, even train stations. Shortly before RTM went to press, for example, Northern Rail had just rolled out more PADs across 13 of its 465 stations, adding to the 37 kits it has already installed in the past year. 

In separate collaborations with two ambulance trusts, Northern has been introducing these life-saving kits across the stations where the majority of serious incidents occur – although according to Resuscitation Council (UK), any busy transport hub usually justifies a cardiac arrest risk rating of ‘moderate’ to ‘likely’. 

Natalie Loughborough, the operator’s customer service director, has been overseeing the project alongside Lawrence Jones, its health and safety support manager. She told RTM that Northern kicked off the roll-out through a partnership with the North West Ambulance Service, which funded some of the kits on the basis that the operator installed them and paid for ongoing maintenance. 

The second initiative, completed mid-February, saw Yorkshire Ambulance Service sell PADs to the operator, which then installed the devices across stations such as Rotherham, Harrogate, Halifax, and Bradford Interchange. 

As easy as 1-2-3 

The headline benefit of installing defibrillators in stations, Loughborough said, is their remarkable simplicity: “As much as you wouldn’t want to, even a child could probably pick it up – as long as they follow the instructions, they’d be able to use it in the same way anybody else would. It tells you where to place the pads, to make sure the clothing is removed, how many seconds to do things for. It won’t operate unless somebody needs it. It’s very, very straightforward.” 

Loughborough said she wasn’t fully convinced until she witnessed one in action in Bolton, the first Northern station equipped with a kit. “Until I saw it and realised how straightforward it is and how much it guides people to use it, I would have never realised how simple it could be,” she noted. “Our staff were always worried about having the right training, and we have put familiarisation in place for our team, but the reality is, you wouldn’t have to – and people would still be able to use it.” 

All that is needed to use a PAD is the ability to recognise that someone who has collapsed may have had a cardiac arrest: they’re unresponsive and not breathing normally. 

The kit then makes shock delivery decisions based on the victim’s heart rhythm and, if unnecessary, will not defibrillate.

Costly, but life-saving 

While there is no national requirement that operators install defibrillators, many of them have been doing it proactively. In Northern’s case, Loughborough said: “We as an organisation believe that they’re a really important piece of kit and, when we can afford to put them in, then clearly we will.” 

She also praised the local authorities who scrapped bureaucratic systems that put TOCs through the planning permission process before allowing them to install PADs. This often came attached to expensive charges and was a major obstacle to equipping stations. 

Although the kits themselves “aren’t used hugely often”, Loughborough said the real importance is having them at hand. In Blackpool, for example, the station PAD was used three times since its installation – a relatively high usage – and recently helped a staff member save a customer’s life. 

The only drawback to full implementation, she said, is the price: while maintenance works out at less than £50 every two years for battery and pad replacement, there’s a much bigger one-off cost in the equipment itself. Kits can often cost around £2,000 each: multiply that by Northern’s 465 stations, or the UK’s 2,500 stations, and the results could scare any operator from joining in.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


William D   27/03/2016 at 18:58

Perhaps the ideal would be for all trains to be fitted so that there's always someone to take responsibility for it's safety. It would be a marginal cost on the price of a new train and, after all, that's where most of the passengers are outside large interchange stations.

Andrew Gwilt   28/03/2016 at 21:29

Of course that the defibrillators are so expensive to install they cost about £2000-£5000 plus installation at train stations that would be used in waiting room, toilets, ticket hall, ticket office and even at enclosed platforms to keep the train station cool during hot weather. Plus most trains are fully air-conditioned whilst other trains have open windows.

David   30/03/2016 at 01:11

Andrew, I don't think you know what a defibrillator actually is.

Simon   30/03/2016 at 11:33

David - Andrew regularly comments on here either repeating what is already said and why do RTM insist on posting every comment this guy makes?, he is always wrong and annoying as well. Yes there is always a comment section but I would block him from posting stuff he knows nothing about. Back on topic surely this should be the norm at all manned stations having these lifesaving equipment available to staff and passengers.

Stephen   01/04/2016 at 14:49

As a Community First Responder with my local ambulance service, and a safety consultant, I fully support every effort to help customers and railway staff through the provision of Public Access Defibrillators. Rapid defibrillation can save somebody's life in the event of a cardiac arrest - and having a defibrillator in every railway station would be a huge contribution to community health. I have attended very ill patients at my local railway station and the railway staff have always been incredibly supportive and helpful.

Andrew Gwilt   13/04/2016 at 10:00

Well by saying that Simon. Go ahead then if you want to block me. This isn't Facebook you know but if it was a forum then I wouldn't care less if I do get banned as I'm annoying. Both you Simon and David the reasons why I hate you both as you both are bullying me for no apparent reason at all. But this isn't a forum so get used to me or ignore me. Simple as that.

Chris   19/04/2016 at 13:22

Andrew, you have made a comment at 21:39 on the 28th March (your first comment above). You have obviously not read the article at all in which case why have you commented? It shows no respect to what is a serious article.

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