Call for lifesaving equipment on ferries

Highland Lib Dem Scottish Parliament candidate Alan MacRae is calling on Caledonian MacBrayne to take up a Skye-based charity’s offer to provide life-saving defibrillators on its ferries.

Ross Cowie, founder of Lucky2BHere, contacted Mr MacRae after the ferry company turned down an offer which would take forward the charity’s work to ensure potentially life-saving defibrillators are on hand in rural and island communities where they can be the key to heart attack victims’ chances of survival.

In a letter to Mr Cowie, Captain M Smith of Cal Mac says that since 2000 there have been ‘only’ 11 reported incidents on board ferries where it was suspected the patient’s condition was heart related, of which three were fatal.

He explains that, “There are major concerns about the liability issues connected with the use of defibrillators in the obvious but regrettable event of the application causing more harm than good, despite the best of intentions.” He then goes on to say, “The provision of defibrillators does not guarantee survival while it may lead to expectation levels which cannot be achieved. The patient could well remain very ill after the heart restarting. This could all add to the distress of an already difficult situation for family, operator and individuals concerned.”

Mr MacRae has written to both Nicola Sturgeon, the Health Secretary, and Keith Brown, the Transport Minister, to ask them to intervene after Cal Mac’s decision, which runs against the view taken by major ferry operators P&O and Stena Line – as well as a growing number of major employers and the UK Department of Health.

Commenting Mr MacRae said:

“The reasons given by Cal Mac for refusing to carry defibrillators on board ferries are simply not good enough. The offer from Lucky2Bhere could not be more comprehensive: both state of the art equipment and appropriate training for first aiders would be provided.

“It is fortunate that heart attacks during ferry crossings are an uncommon occurrence, but the availability of defibrillators is potentially critical when they do happen. The chances of success are by far the greatest in the first minutes after an attack and they then decline steeply. For the ferry company to refuse this opportunity because only 3 passengers have died from heart attacks during the last decade is crass.

“Cal Mac’s concern about legal liability for a failed attempt to resuscitate reflects little more than a harmful urban myth rather than a considered boardroom discussion. There is no precedent whatsoever for legal action following an attempted resuscitation. It is very difficult to see how more harm than good could be done when an individual’s heart has stopped beating.

“It seems much more likely that Cal Mac could be accused of failing in their duty of care to passengers and staff by resisting the offer of appropriate equipment for use in critical medical emergencies. The idea that an opportunity to save someone’s life should be abandoned to avoid adding to the “distress” of the situation simply defies belief.

“AED’s (Automated External Defibrillators) are increasingly widely available, including on many ferries elsewhere in the UK. They are designed specifically for safe use by those without formal medical qualifications. Lucky2Bhere has made an enormous contribution by bringing them to many of our local communities, but the case for putting them on Cal Mac ferries, which carry around 5 million people per year, is just as compelling. Ministers must not allow bureaucratic inertia to stand in the way of an opportunity to save lives.”