How can we help improve the cardiac arrest survival rate in Australia?
In Australia, around 30,000 people suffer from a sudden cardiac arrest each year. On average, only 9-10% survive. We all have a part to play in increasing this alarmingly low survival rate and could be saving 12,000 lives a year! Read our interview with Associate Professor Paul Middleton, Senior Emergency Medicine Specialist, to find out how.
In 2014, Professor Middleton set up the inspiring charity Take Heart Australia, bringing together experts from healthcare, academia, community, government and the private sector to develop an integrated approach to saving lives, right around the country.
What inspired you to set up Take Heart Australia back in 2014?
I’ve been working in Emergency Medicine and prehospital care for about 25 years, teaching ALS for 22 years, and was Chair of the Australian Resuscitation Council in NSW for almost nine years. During this time, I saw hundreds of cardiac arrest patients and what always stuck in my mind are the words, "I'm sorry but there was nothing we could do..."
I was also an author for the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR), which summarises all cardiac arrest resuscitation evidence and publishes guidelines on how to save people. But I became increasingly frustrated as we seemed to be very good at telling people how to do things and yet no one in Australia was trying to change survival as a whole. At this time, we actually published a paper showing that cardiac arrest survival in Sydney was decreasing.
I also visited Seattle and met inspirational colleagues there who were achieving a 64% survival rate for witnessed shockable cardiac arrests. And when I completed a course at the Resuscitation Academy in the US that teaches you how to change your community's cardiac arrest survival rates, I knew we just had to do something ourselves.
What’s the ultimate aim of Take Heart Australia?
We know that the best chance of surviving cardiac arrest occurs when a victim’s care begins immediately – in a community where defibrillators are widespread and accessible and citizens are trained and willing to provide CPR. With two colleagues from paramedicine and nursing, we established Take Heart Australia with the ultimate aim to make it the norm – rather than the exception – to survive cardiac arrest.
What has the support for Take Heart Australia been like and what inroads have you made?
It's been really slow, but we can see change happening all the time. We have huge support when we hold an event, or when we appear in the media, and whenever I talk to clinical colleagues they’re always keen to help.
What we really need to do is to break into the mainstream consciousness and inform everyone in Australia how many people die of cardiac arrest, and how many of them could be saved if the person standing next to them was willing to do the simplest of things. We believe that learning CPR is a life skill, like doing up your shoelaces or cleaning your teeth, so children shouldn't even leave junior school without knowing how to do it. We have a long way to go!
What’s the best way to get people trained in CPR from an early age? And what role can employers play?
I definitely think children should be taught very early. I taught my kids’ classes when they were both about five and the children all loved it! Even when they couldn't actually push on the chest they still loved it, but importantly, the following year when I went back they’d remembered what to do. Children can also tell an adult the right thing to do.
Take Heart Australia has developed a school program called Little Hearts which combines video, animation and volunteers visiting schools to teach CPR in a blended learning program. It's currently a pilot program we hope will spread to all schools across Australia.
I also believe employers should ensure all their employees are High-Quality CPR trained, to be a good corporate citizen if nothing else. Imagine the publicity if you’re an employer with the vision to do this, and a life is saved at work. Amazing! Some organisations get it. We’ve trained employees from small to large-sized organisations - too easy!
Creating a community where citizens are trained and willing to provide CPR will save lives. It’s already happening around the world: 55% of cardiac arrest victims in King Country Washington live to talk about it. With a swift response, high-quality CPR and easy access to defibrillators, this could be the same for Australian victims.
Thanks for talking to us Dr Middleton, we look forward to following the progress of your life-saving initiatives.
The Wavelength Emergency Medicine team definitely support the need for awareness and transformation in Australia around increased community access to CPR training. We're always happy to talk to Emergency Medicine Doctors about views on resuscitation, the changing job market, and of course the latest locum and permanent ED roles available.
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