I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill, and I would be delighted to join him on 9 September. He has come up with an excellent option that is not on my list.
I accept there are many good candidates for zero-rate or reduced-rate VAT, one of which the hon. Gentleman has just outlined, and I am sure the Minister will say that the Government have received £50 billion-worth of requests for VAT relief since the EU referendum, which is a valid point. Our tax base funds the public services on which we all rely, including NHS treatment for victims of cardiac arrest, but surely these lifesaving devices should be a higher priority than, say, e-books, of which I am a great fan but they cannot save a life in the event of cardiac arrest.
There is a good argument that, as paper books already have a zero rate of VAT, extending it to e-books is a necessary tidying up of the system to avoid any legal challenges. That is not 100 miles away from the situation with defibrillators, where some charities benefit from zero-rate VAT but others do not. Surely, whatever the purpose of the charity, the purpose of using a defibrillator is the same.
Another option is to widen the scope of organisations that can purchase a defibrillator without paying VAT. Instead of just covering charities with care, medical, rescue or first-aid missions, could not all charities, not-for-profits and community groups be allowed to purchase a defibrillator without paying VAT? After all, businesses can currently claim back VAT on defibrillators as part of their VAT return forms. Such an approach would direct savings to the people who need them most, while not setting a precedent for the blanket removal of VAT on a specific item. It also simplifies what is currently a confusing landscape in which people are not sure whether they are eligible for this VAT exemption.
Or perhaps we can set up a fund for charities and community groups, either to claim back their VAT or to aid them in buying defibrillators. Maybe a pot of money could be announced in the Budget—I am getting my bid in early. I am sure the creative and clever minds at the Treasury can come up with all sorts of options, and I place on record my huge thanks to the Minister, who I know has asked her team to do just that.
Whatever model we go for, the end we need to achieve is making community defibrillators more affordable, especially at a time when people’s finances are increasingly stretched. Whatever route we choose, we need to publicise it and use the opportunity to address the lack of knowledge and confidence in defibrillator use. I identify with this, as I did not know how to use one until Trent District Community First Responders and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service kindly offered to train me and my team. In fact they are training all sorts of groups across Rushcliffe, and it would be great if we could offer defibrillator and CPR training to Members and staff here in Parliament. When I asked, I was told there was no course I could do.
Parliament provides many other courses. We have media training, diversity and inclusion training and courses on how to use the Library, and I am told I can be tutored in any foreign language that might be useful for my work. All these are important, but none would teach me how to resuscitate a constituent at my surgery whose life is hanging in the balance.
Any of the proposed options I have discussed would be most effective alongside a big push to increase defibrillator training and a publicity campaign to raise awareness. Many people want to learn how to use a defibrillator and save a life, and many more can already use one and want to share this knowledge with others, so why do we not help to bring them together?
I have one final thought on how to maximise the impact of such a campaign. At present, it is a legal requirement to have firefighting equipment in places of work, residences and public buildings—everywhere really. What people need to have depends on the type of premises, but fire alarms, extinguishers and exit signs are all pretty universal. However, there is no legal requirement to have a defibrillator kept at a place of work. Why not? Some 80% of people believe that defibrillators should be mandated in workplaces, but only 30% of people have a defibrillator in their workplace.
Increasing access to defibrillators is not just the right thing to do; it also makes financial sense. Patients who have had early defibrillation have a significantly reduced stay in hospital and are far less likely to need treatment in intensive care. The average hospital stay is significantly less for survivors when a defibrillator is applied within the three-to-five-minute window and they spend less, if any, time in intensive care. Figures may differ from hospital to hospital, but on average an intensive care unit bed is about £2,300 more expensive per night.
In addition, patients who have a defibrillator used on them quickly have fewer ongoing health problems due to lack of blood and oxygen circulation to vital organs such as the brain. This means they require far less ongoing treatment. In short, we estimate that reducing the cost of defibrillators and increasing the number available for people to use in the community will save the NHS tens of millions of pounds, which is much needed to reinvest as it deals with the elective backlogs brought on by the pandemic.
In conclusion, I first raised this issue in Parliament at Prime Minister’s questions back in March, and I would like to thank both the Minister and the Prime Minister for the priority they have given to this issue since. They both met my constituents Peter Stanbury and Paul Wilson, who are respectively the chairman and the coach of West Bridgford Colts, and I know the Treasury has been working on a number of options to take this forward. I would also like to thank Peter and Paul for coming to see me in my surgery and making me aware of this issue, and for the incredible work the Colts have done to raise money to buy more defibrillators for their training ground.
I would also like to thank Dylan’s family—his mum Anna, his dad Mike and his sister Lucy—for allowing us to tell Dylan’s story and for backing the Colts’ campaign at what must be the darkest time of their lives. Sudden cardiac arrest can tear through the life of any family with devastating results. I am delighted by the energy and commitment the Government have shown to working on this issue, and I hope we can now agree on the best way forward and give it the green light, so that we can get on with delivering these life-saving changes.
I would just like to leave the House with a message from Dylan’s mum Anna, who wrote to me this morning to say:
“I think it helps to emphasise the importance of community defibrillators, in the sense that we did get an output back on Dylan. Sadly, it was ultimately the time he was without adequately oxygenated blood to his brain that led to his death. Without the defibrillator, I don’t think we would have left the football pitch.”