The theft or vandalisation of public-access defibrillators should carry harsher penalties, similar to those handed out for an attack on an emergency services worker, one Northern Irish MLA has claimed.
Oliver McMullan, Sinn Fein MLA for East Antrim, tackled the issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday (29 November), after two separate incidents within 24 hours that saw one defibrillator badly damaged and another stolen.
“In many cases, these defibrillators have been secured, and sometimes bought by local communities, and any attack on them is essentially an attack on the community,” the Irish News quoted him as saying.
Mr McMullan stressed that these devices are in place to save lives and as such should be protected by more stringent laws, similar to those designed to protect the emergency services.
According to the newspaper, 14 defibrillators have been stolen in Northern Ireland since January 2010, and a further eight have suffered criminal damage.
In addition, 34 life rings located next to rivers, loughs and along the coastline have been stolen or damaged in the same period.
Mr McMullan’s comments come just one day after a 29 year old man was arrested in Belfast and charged with criminal damage after smashing the glass on a newly installed defibrillator.
The Irish News revealed that the vandalism was captured on CCTV, and the man in question will appear before magistrates in December.
The defibrillator was located outside David Crymble and Sons Funeral Directors, and funeral director Andrew Crymble has now set up a Justgiving page to raise money for further defibrillators in east and south Belfast following the outpouring of support from the local community after the vandalism.
Around the UK, there is growing recognition of the positive impact a defibrillator can have in incidents of sudden cardiac arrest, with more and more communities raising funds to install these life-saving pieces of equipment.
Earlier this month, a new Defibrillator (Availability) Bill was proposed in parliament, which would require all schools, sports centres and public facilities to have a defibrillator, as well as staff who are trained to use them.
While organisations that have defibrillators onsite will usually provide training for staff in how to use them, there are a number of defibrillator training courses available should you wish to know more about how to use one in an emergency.
In the meantime, the Department of Health has given the British Heart Foundation a £! Million grant to make more defibrillators available, the Southern Daily Echo reported.
The newspaper highlighted the need for more public-access defibrillators in Hampshire, citing the case of Sam Mongoro, a 16 year old pupil at the Mountbatton School in Romsey who was saved through the use of an onsite defibrillator after suffering a heart attack.
In Hampshire, the campaign is being backed by the Hunter family, whose 22 year old daughter Claire tragically died in 2013 after collapsing due to sudden adult death syndrome. So far, her parents have helped install defibrillators in several local buildings, as well as raising funding to provide screenings for 1,300 young people in their area.