We must empower dispatch to advise location of public AEDs to prevent this..click here

Andy Wells
Andy Wells·Freelance Writer
Updated 27 October 2022·

A grieving family has claimed the NHS failed to make clear a defibrillator that could have given their mother a better chance of survival was located less than 200 yards from them.

Sharon Beales, 56, went into cardiac arrest while surrounded by relatives at her home near Newbury, Berkshire, shortly before midnight on 18 January.

The carer had been watching a movie when the colour drained from her face and she started foaming at the mouth, her family said.

One of her sons called 999 and a South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) call handler asked him about an ‘AED’ – an automated external defibrillator – according to the family.

But relatives claim the person on the phone did not clarify what this was and in the confusion, Mrs Beales’ son believed the call handler was talking about an IED – an explosive device – and the defibrillator was forgotten about.

The AED – which can shock the heart back into its normal rhythm – was located just 160 yards away in an old phone box.

The ambulance service has admitted the call handler "did not advise the family to access their nearest community defibrillator” and an inquest heard that the delay during this crucial period may have contributed to Mrs Beales’ death in hospital.

She was taken to Royal Berkshire Hospital where she was induced into a coma, and her life support was withdrawn on 29 January.

Daughter Yasmin Maskell, 28, said: "Our mum was such a wonderful woman. We're absolutely devastated, and we don't want this to happen to anyone else.

"There was a failure that should never have happened, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

"There needs to be a better system for the public to know how to use defibrillators and an easier way for the public to access them.

"Even if you know there is one, you can’t access it without getting the code from the NHS.”

Ms Maskell claims her mum would have got a defibrillator shock in four minutes if the family had been told about the local machine.

Instead, she ended up waiting 14 minutes to be shocked by paramedics and Dr Matthew Frise, a doctor in the intensive care unit at Royal Berkshire Hospital, told the inquest that an earlier intervention "would have offered a better chance of survival", but added that it was

Dr Matthew Frise, a doctor in the intensive care unit at Royal Berkshire Hospital, told an inquest into Sharon's death that an earlier intervention could have been life-saving" but that it was impossible to know for sure whether the outcome would have been changed.

Ms Maskell added: "They should use the word defibrillator, that's how we all refer to them – and the coroner agreed.”

Her husband Laurence said: "We are all heartbroken. Sharon was always a giver, working 15-hour shifts and she's donated her organs.

"This is such a sudden and painful loss, and could have turned out differently. The defibrillator was just around the corner: if only we'd known."

SCAS accepted that the call handler “did not advise the family to access their nearest community defibrillator” but added: “It must be remembered that a call taker needs to provide instructions regarding basic life support (CPR), gather information regarding the patient’s location, so that an ambulance can be dispatched and deliver advice regarding the location of a community defibrillator, all in the first few seconds of the call, which is a challenge.”

The ambulance service is now undertaking a review “to ensure any learning is identified and implemented to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again”.

Mrs Beales’ cause of death was recorded as hypoxic brain injury caused by cardiac ventricular arrhythmia.

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