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The Cost of Sudden Cardiac Death to Society


Heart of the Nation is proud to support the release of a landmark report relating to the economic cost of sudden cardiac death in Australia.  The report, written by Dr. Anthony Ockwell of Economic Connections for Heart of the Nation, looks at the astonishingly high economic burden that is created by the unexpected loss of a loved one through sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), as well as proffering some options that could be considered by Governments working in tandem with business and the community, to reduce deaths, and increase survival rates dramatically.

Whilst it has been known for many years that in Australia, the death toll from SCA is in the tens of thousands, it seems that the issue of what it costs the country economically and socially, year after year, has been previously neglected by political players.  SCA is a medical phenomenon whereby a person’s heart suddenly stops pumping blood and places them within minutes of death without the appropriate intervention of bystanders.  It is unpredictable, can strike anyone, anywhere at any time, with unexplained reason and can often be mistaken as a heart attack.

Whilst heart disease makes up a large number of patients who experience a sudden cardiac arrest, there are other causes, such as genetic channelopathies, and for around 50% of people who experience a SCA, their life-or-death experience is the first time they are made aware of their issue, which ultimately could take their life at any time.

Dr Ockwell's report has found that 22,689 of the estimated 25,413 SCAs in Australia in 2017-18 resulted in death - a mortality rate of 88%. Looking past the emotional cost, and the effect that this sudden, unexpected loss of life has on those who are survived by the passing of a loved one, the report attempts to quantify the cost to society and the impact that the loss of those lives has, and the result is staggering.

Gathering data from a variety of sources and utilising reputable economic methods for quantifying the economic cost of loss of life, Dr. Ockwell has deduced that the economic cost associated with deaths resulting from SCA is around $51.2 billion per year.  In summarising the approach, he explained: "In this report I've welcomed the opportunity to apply a well-recognised approach to quantifying the cost to society of trauma and death on our roads to this important and insufficiently appreciated national health problem."

The Inquiry into the 2011-2020 National Road Safety Strategy recommended establishing an annual road safety fund based on the annual cost of road crashes to the country. Heart of the Nation would support a similar principle being used to fund programs addressing the Chain of Survival to reduce the cost of fatalities attributable to SCA.

Heart of the Nation - an initiative of a registered Australian charity, founded by Greg Page, the Original Yellow Wiggle who survived a SCA in January of 2020 and is dedicated to promoting the Chain of Survival, which includes both CPR and the use of an AED - is applauding the work of Dr. Ockwell bringing this issue to the forefront, which allows it to be dealt with now, together with practical measures that can assist in providing the most vital link in the chain of survival to more Australians.

“We have known for many years that an AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, can have a dramatic impact on the chance of survival for someone who is in cardiac arrest.  We know that around 80% of cardiac arrests happen in the home.  Therefore, it makes sense, that to save more lives, we need to make these devices more accessible to people in residential communities – but there is a cost attached to that. The cost is a significant one but nowhere near the cost each year, that is being felt by our country through the loss of life of more than 20,000 Australians”, said Greg Page, founder of Heart of the Nation.

This report cites 3 options that would allow Heart of the Nation to assist in the process of equipping communities with the skills (CPR) and the tools (an AED) to really make a difference in seeing the survival rates from SCA increase.  The Heart of the Nation vision involves government, not-for-profits, businesses, and communities working together to solve this problem that results in such sudden, tragic, and costly loss of life both emotionally and financially, every year.

Regarding the cost/benefit of the 3 options, Page said, “Now that we know the cost of this issue to the country, we have benchmarks for the number of lives that need to be saved by programs such as those put forward by Dr. Ockwell in order for them to be considered beneficial in terms of cost-effectiveness”.

“Sudden Cardiac Arrest is not like other life threatening or terminal illnesses where you have an onset of symptoms and then you get time to consult a GP, then a specialist and then receive treatment while you and your family have time to come to terms with what is happening – as difficult and emotionally challenging as that might be.  With Sudden Cardiac Arrest, you, and those around you, literally have minutes and seconds to understand what is going on, respond appropriately with the right intervention to deal with what is a life and death situation.  For someone in cardiac arrest, their GP and their specialist is the person who happens to be standing next to them at the time they collapse – and if that person doesn’t have access to the right skills and tools (CPR and an AED), then the chance of survival for the person in cardiac arrest is greatly diminished.”, concludes Page, who himself was fortunate to survive because of bystander CPR and a publicly accessible AED.

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