A LEADING GP has attacked what he described as "misinformation" about the role of heart-start defibrillator machines.

Dr Harry Byrne, vice chairman of NHS Darlington Clinical Commissioning Group, said he wanted to clear up any misunderstanding about the operation of defibrillators.

Dr Byrne, from the Neasham Road medical practice, was speaking after the launch of The Northern Echo's A Chance To Live campaign, which is calling on all North-East gym owners to invest in a defibrillator in a bid to prevent unnecessary loss of life.

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It follows a survey by the Echo of 52 North-East gyms and leisure centres which showed that while council-run gyms all had defibrillators, 80 per cent of private gyms surveyed did not.

One up-market Darlington gym, Bannatynes, issued a statement that they did not a defibrillator because "they are a specialist piece of medical equipment, which should only be operated by qualified medical professionals."

Dr Byrne responded: "I don't imagine there is a doctor in town who would not endorse your campaign as a really positive thing. These defibrillators are certainly very sophisticated pieces of medical equipment but the idea that they are not to be used by people who have no training is just wrong."

"They are foolproof even a doctor could follow the written and verbal instructions," he joked.

Dr Byrne said the advent of defibrillators - developed to shock hearts back into a normal rhythm in the case of a cardiac arrest - "is the single greatest advance in out of hospital cardiac assistance since the invention of chest compressions, or CPR."

He pointed out that non-medical staff in every doctors surgery in Darlington has been given basic training in how to use heart-start machines.

But he stressed that even a total beginner could safely use them to help save a life.

"You don't have to be a trained first aider to use one. You just pull it out of the box and follow the instructions step by step. It even tells you what to do."

He stressed that there is "is no danger to an individual. The machine decides when to deliver a charge. If someone collapses you stick the defibrillator pads on their chest and it decides whether or not to shock them. It even tells you to stand clear."

Dr Byrne said he would have thought all well-equipped gyms would have a defibrillator available for staff to use.

"I would have thought it was fundamental to have one. I would be alarmed if I was a member of a gym which didn't have a defibrillator."

Speaking about its decision not equip Bannatyne  health clubs with defibrillators, a spokesman said: "We stand by our position which is based on sound experience and the company's own advice."