Parliament should set minimum mandatory requirements for the location of defibrillators in public places such as train stations, shopping centres and schools, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has suggested.
During a parliamentary debate in March on heart safety, Burnham said thousands of lives could be saved every year if Britain followed the lead of other countries and required the installation of defibrillators in busy public places.
While many buildings already had defibrillators, people often did not know where to find one. Burnham also recommended it was time for an open public register of defibrillators so people could quickly locate the nearest one using modern technology.
"Too many lives are being lost that could potentially be saved if only communities were better equipped to provide an emergency response," he said.
"Just as we once required fire extinguishers to be on hand, it is time for Parliament to act and set a minimum requirement on the location of defibrillators. People need to know where they can find one if we are going to save more lives."
There also needed to be better education on how to use defibrillators, Burnham said, and he urged the Government to consider including emergency first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the national curriculum, as well as introducing a heart screening programme for young people.
His call came after research published in February by defibrillator manufacturer DOC UK found that many heart defibrillators located in UK workplaces would not be used in an emergency because of misplaced fears and lack of staff education about their use.
Just 15% of employees reported that they had defibrillators in their workplaces, with the problem exacerbated by the finding that fewer than half said they knew how to use them. Of those who did have defibrillators available, 11% of staff would not feel confident about using one in a genuine emergency.
In a separate development, in March the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) began a consultation on the content of revised guidance to help businesses put in place arrangements for first aid provision.