The latest Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) reports from New Zealand’s ambulance services show that cardiac arrest survival rates are down for the second consecutive year since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The reports, published by St John and Wellington Free Ambulance, cover all cardiac arrest incidents in the community attended by St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
During this period more than 2000 people were treated for a cardiac arrest in the community, or around five people a day, with only 25 percent of those surviving to hospital arrival and 11 percent of those surviving past 30 days post-hospital discharge.
St John Clinical Director, Dr Tony Smith says cardiac arrest from ischaemic heart disease remains one of the main causes of death in New Zealand and survival rates have declined slightly since 2020.
“The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including periods of lockdown, have been challenging for everyone, with a lot of disruption to how healthcare is delivered. Hospitals, general practice, and ambulance services are having to adapt and adjust very quickly to an evolving situation,” Dr Smith says.
“We suspect some of this may have contributed to the slight drop in survival from cardiac arrest in the community.
“In the meantime, we need to continue to focus on increasing public awareness of the importance of bystander CPR and use of defibrillators.”
Dr Smith’s comments were echoed by Wellington Free Ambulance Medical Director Dr Andy Swain who says data analysis confirms that the pandemic and lockdown had contributed to the decline in survival rates.
However, survival rates can more than double with community help. Bystanders can save lives by starting CPR and using an AED (automated external defibrillator). Both St John and Wellington Free Ambulance provide CPR and AED awareness programs free of charge to the public.
Wellington Free Ambulance runs the Lloyd Morrison Foundation Heartbeat Programme, which provides free CPR training to anyone in the Greater Wellington/Wairarapa region and provides free maintenance for community AEDs in the region.
“We are committed to providing CPR training to as many people as possible, and despite the challenges of the ongoing COVID response, we trained over 2000 people last year,” Dr Swain says.
“Our goal is for everyone to feel confident in their ability to administer CPR and for these lifesaving skills to remain with them for the rest of their lives.”
St John Deputy Chief Executive of Community Health and Iwi Engagement, Sarah Manley, agrees communities play a pivotal role in helping improve cardiac arrest survival rates, particularly for Māori and Pasifika whānau who are more likely to have a cardiac arrest and less likely to survive.
New Zealand’s ambulance services want everyone to know the 3 Steps for Life – calling 111 for an ambulance, starting CPR, and using an AED, which can help save the life of a whānau member or someone in your community. Anyone who is confident in CPR can join up to GoodSAM which is an app that alerts people when there is someone in cardiac arrest in the area, allowing them to possibly save a life.