POLITICS

Goodale says federal government has a hole in heart defibrillator policy

05/27/2013 05:13 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT
REGINA - Liberal MP Ralph Goodale says there's a big hole in the federal government's heart defibrillator plans for its own facilities.

Goodale says the government's current policy is inconsistent and that needs to change. He recently gave notice of a private member's motion that calls for defibrillators to be installed in all government facilities, with priority being assigned to RCMP offices and vehicles.

"Because right now, roughly speaking half of the departments and agencies do have a defibrillator policy and half don't, and that doesn't make any logical sense at all," Goodale said.

The Regina MP filed written questions with the government and the answers he got back show that among those without automatic external defibrillators, also known as AEDs, is Health Canada.

"For a moment I thought that really needed to be a typo, that that couldn't possibly be true but it is," he said.

"Health Canada is one of those where there are no defibrillators. Public Safety Canada is another. The Canada Border Services Agency is another. The list just goes on and on and on. It just doesn't make any sense for Health Canada to be on, what I would consider to be, the negligence side of the argument."

According to the documents, Health Canada says its health and safety committees "are planning to progressively implement AEDs through its buildings." It says a plan is in the works.

Health Canada referred questions Monday from The Canadian Press to the Treasury Board.

The Treasury Board did not make anyone available for comment, but it emailed The Canadian Press part of its occupational safety and health directive.

It says: "When a recommendation is made by a health and safety committee to an employer to purchase an automated external defibrillators, the employer will evaluate its feasibility."

According to the documents, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the National Energy Board and the Northern Pipeline Agency do not own defibrillator units. The Canadian Human Rights Commission also does not have a defibrillator and "does not expect to acquire one in the future."

Dave Dutchak, president and CEO of MD Ambulance in Saskatoon, says paramedics support the idea that every public building should have the devices.

"Having defibrillators in all buildings will make a difference to safety and increase the survival rate, no question," said Dutchak, who noted there are more than 600 AEDs in Saskatoon — one of the highest per capita rates in the country.

"It's awareness and it's a real message to employees as well that their employer is interested in caring about them."

Goodale says it was paramedics who raised the issue of AED guidelines with him. He says he wanted the motion on the order paper before paramedics marked National Emergency Medical Services Awareness Week this week.

The Paramedic Chiefs of Canada says it supports the motion.

"There appears to be no consistent approach right now with application of AEDs in federal buildings across Canada, so we see Mr. Goodale's intent here as actually standardizing that and ensuring that appropriate life-saving device is available in federal buildings," said Darren Sandbeck, president of the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada.

"We actually support the application of the device in all public buildings."

Sandbeck points out that cardiac arrest can happen any time, not just during physical activity.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in February that the federal government is pushing ahead with a plan to put defibrillators in recreational hockey arenas across the country. The Conservatives promised the $10-million initiative during the 2011 election campaign.

Goodale says helping community organizations is a good first step.

"That is a constructive gesture by the government of Canada, but it does beg the question what's going on in the government's own backyard? It has jurisdiction for all of the buildings and facilities that it owns, operates or regulates. It actually doesn't have jurisdiction for dealing with community hockey rinks."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says between 35,000 to 45,000 Canadians die from sudden cardiac arrest each year.

It says defibrillators could potentially save thousands of people and increase the chance of survival by up to 75 per cent.

"We would like to see them in every facility possible, whether it's a recreational facility or a public place aside from the rec facilities, every business, every company, every organization," said Mike Hoffman, manager of the foundation's AED program.

"We feel strongly that they should be as common as fire extinguishers in our opinion."