Harefield Hospital and Thames Valley Air Ambulance offer new hope to cardiac arrest patients | Fieldfisher
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Harefield Hospital and Thames Valley Air Ambulance offer new hope to cardiac arrest patients


A cardiac arrest means a person’s heart suddenly stops pumping blood around their body, generally caused by an abnormal heart rhythm due to blocked arteries causing a heart attack.

When someone goes into cardiac arrest, it is critical to restore circulation to ensure organs are not starved of oxygen, usually by performing CPR. But, according to NICE, out of the roughly 60,000 cases of suspected cardiac arrest annually, fewer than 1 in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital attack.

To help tackle these horrendous statistics, Harefield Hospital and the Air Ambulance have recently introduced new procedures to improve survival rates outside the hospital setting.

If a patient does not respond to initial CPR at the scene, clinicians will identify and transport eligible patients to Harefield Hospital where they receive E-CPR treatment. This involves pumping the patient’s blood through an ECMO - an external device that temporarily takes over the job of the heart and lungs. This technique is currently administered to selected patients who experience cardiac arrest while at Harefield Hospital.

According to Dr Waqas Akhtar, a registrar in cardiology and intensive care at the hospital and one of the developers of the service:  

“An ECMO machine takes over the function of a patient’s heart and lungs by taking deoxygenated blood out of the patient and inserting oxygenated blood back into them.

“This new service, combining CPR with placing patients on ECMO, has the potential to save more lives than we are able to do with CPR alone.”

According to the Thames Valley Air Ambulance, the technique has definitely improved survival rates, with a 2020 study showing survival reached 43 per cent compared to 7 per cent in patients who received standard CPR interventions.

According to an intensive care consultant at the Hospital, there are limited NHS centres that can deliver ECMO, but Harefield will share its findings about the viability of the model with partners wherever they can across the NHS.

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