THE NORTH West Ambulance Service has “wholeheartedly” apologised after locals were unable to access public defibrillators during two emergency incidents in January.
THE NWAS has installed a network of life-saving defibrillators across Saddleworth’s villages over the last 12 months thanks to a campaign led by former councillor Alan Roughley.
But when the equipment was needed in Uppermill and Delph last month, locals could not be given a code to open the defib’s boxes as 999 operators couldn’t find them on their system.
In the incident in Uppermill, a resident – who wishes to remain unnamed – tried to get access to the defibrillator at the Civic Hall after her friend was taken unwell.
She explained: “Instructed by 999 telephone operators I went up to the Civic Hall and phoned back 999 to get the code to release the defibrillator, as instructed on the box.
“However, the operator had no record of the Uppermill defibrillator! Luckily I saw the ambulance come past and the operator confirmed the ambulance had arrived at the scene.
“We felt angry, concerned and puzzled as to why the equipment couldn’t be accessed easily. If you’re wanting this equipment it’s not usually for a minor thing.
“And why wasn’t the defib even registered? Regardless of this, why weren’t 999 able to give us a code to access it anyway?”
A friend who was helping added: “Once we got to the person needing medical attention I called 999.
“We were advised to get the nearest defib in case it was needed while we waited for the ambulance. I told the operator there was one in the village but she couldn’t see it on her system.”
Meanwhile in Delph, Cllr Nikki Kirkham tried to access the defib at the library but couldn’t be given a code, so had to rush around the corner to use the one at Holland Close.
She said: “It is such a shame we’ve got them installed but I couldn’t use it and this needs looking into immediately. But overall they are fabulous, life-saving things and we need more of them.”
When the issue was raised at the Saddleworth and Lees District Partnership meeting, it was explained that each defib has a custodian who registers it and also carries out weekly checks to maintain its active status.
But the concerned Uppermill woman added: “I find it extremely worrying how difficult it was to access the defib and the criteria you seemingly need to match seems absurd.”
A NWAS spokesperson said: “We work hard to raise awareness of the importance of defibrillators and are actively trying to install them in as many public places as possible.
“The Trust is aware there have been occasions where callers have been unable to access public defibrillators in the Saddleworth area.
“This is something that we wholeheartedly apologise for and can assure residents that it is being addressed.
“The defibrillators in question are registered with the Trust. However they were located over 250 metres away meaning our system wasn’t alerted to them and the problem was therefore down to human error.
“Thankfully, on these occasions a defibrillator was not required. However we have issued additional guidance to our Emergency Medical Dispatchers to ensure this does not happen again.”
Defib and CPR training has been provided to locals for free by the NWAS and this will be extended and defibrillator signs installed.