Top NHS doctor backs Express campaign to register life-saving defibrillators

England’s top doctor has backed a Daily Express campaign to get more life-saving defibrillators registered on the national network.

The devices have the power to restart a patient’s heart when it unexpectedly stops beating. But thousands have not yet been logged on The Circuit, the system used to direct 999 callers to their nearest one in emergencies.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, urged members of the public to get behind our Complete The Circuit crusade ahead of the NHS’s 75th anniversary on July 5.

He said: “In support of the Daily Express’ campaign to reach 100,000 defibs registered on The Circuit, it would be fantastic to see the numbers registered reaching the 75,000 mark by the NHS’ 75th birthday.

“Uncovering these hidden defibrillators could be crucial for someone experiencing cardiac arrest.”

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body, usually without any warning. Sufferers are at high risk of dying if not treated immediately.

Defibrillators deliver an electric pulse via pads attached to the patient’s torso to restart the heart and restore its normal rhythm.

Belfast doctor Professor Frank Pantridge is credited with developing the first portable device in 1965. It weighed over 70kg.

His invention was initially ridiculed in some medical circles, but in 1990 they became standard in all frontline ambulances in the UK. Modern defibrillators weight just 3kg and can be used by anyone without training.

The machines can be the difference between life and death. But they are currently used by bystanders in less than five percent of cardiac arrests that occur outside of hospital.

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Sir Stephen said: “There are more than 30,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year, and fewer than one in 10 people survive.

“Every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by up to a tenth but performing CPR can help double someone’s chance of survival, and defibrillation within the first three to five minutes can save up to seven in 10 people.”

The British Heart Foundation, which is supporting the campaign, estimates that only 66,000 out of more than 100,000 defibrillators in the UK are registered.

We are asking members of the public to look out for devices in public spaces, workplaces or clubs and check whether they are on The Circuit at

If not, the defibrillator’s guardian – unsung heroes who maintain them – can register them online at

Sir Stephen added: “If you have a defibrillator, please help us to help you by making sure you register it, so your local ambulance service can locate it and give people the best possible chance of survival.”

‘Quick use of a defib saved my brain function’

Jess Howes had stopped by her old high school to say hello when she collapsed suddenly. She lives with a genetic condition, catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), which causes dangerous extra heartbeats.

Jess, 20, said: “I knew that I could have a cardiac arrest but never thought it would actually happen.

I went into my head of year’s office and apparently I just collapsed. He rang my dad pretty much immediately because he knew I had a heart condition.”

Staff started CPR and fetched a defibrillator, treating Jess on a classroom table. When paramedics arrived she was rushed to a hospital in Manchester, then to Liverpool for surgery and spent four days in a coma.

Jess, from Chorlton, said: “The defibrillator was massively important. Because of the quick action of the people around me, knowing where the defib was and being able to shock me, I was able to recover so much more quickly.

“I didn’t actually lose a lot of brain cells so my function came back within about two months. I was shocked that I could actually speak, walk and pick things up, but I think it was because of how quickly everyone reacted.”

Jess had a small implantable defibrillator fitted following the incident in 2020 and has since received two shocks to keep her heart rhythm steady.

She is now studying for a degree in child and mental health nursing at the University of Leicester, inspired by the nurses who treated her as a child.

“Anyone, whether they have a heart condition or not, could drop to the floor in front of you,” Jess added. “It’s so important to know what to do in that situation.”

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