But a recent press release reported that Portugal only has 446 automatic external defibrillators (AED) licensed by INEM in public places. That’s simply not enough of these lifesaving machines.

The legislation establishing the rules for the use of defibrillators was amended in August 2012 and made it mandatory, until September 2014, to install AED equipment in commercial establishments of a relevant size, such as airports and commercial ports, railways, metro and bus stations, sports and leisure facilities with a capacity of over 5,000 people, and large commercial establishments.

According to figures provided by INEM, there are currently 356 public spaces with an AED program, 446 with AED equipment and 5,635 AED operators trained to use them.

What is a defibrillator?

Many readers will have heard about these incredible machines, but for those who don’t know, here are the basics. A defibrillator is a device that gives a high energy electric shock to the heart of someone who is in cardiac arrest.

This high energy shock is called defibrillation, and it's an essential part in trying to save the life of someone who’s in cardiac arrest. You don’t need to be trained to use a defibrillator – anyone can use it. They are simple and easy to use and you don't need any training. There are clear instructions on how to attach the defibrillator pads. It then assesses the heart rhythm and will only instruct you to deliver a shock if it’s needed. You can't deliver a shock accidentally; the defibrillator will only allow you to shock if it is needed. It’s pretty much fool proof and a defibrillator saves lives.

Don’t think you are too young for a heart attack

A heart attack can happen to almost anybody. The UK has the best publicly available records, and they don’t make good reading. 30,000 out of-hospital cardiac arrests happen each year in the UK and 9 out of 10 are sadly fatal.

But new research carried out in America shows that heart attacks – often associated with older men – are increasingly occurring in younger people, especially women. Researchers studied more than 28,000 people hospitalised for heart attacks from 1995 to 2014, and they found that the rate of heart attacks in patients ages 35 to 54 has increased from 27 percent to 32 percent.

The best news is that this equipment costs around €1,000, so there really isn’t any excuse for not installing one if you have a suitable location.

Albufeira takes a lead

Four years ago, Albufeira started to install defibrillators. Thirteen units have been placed in strategic public places around the city, as well as in two vehicles, one belonging to the local fire brigade, and the other to local police. A total of 71 people – among them civilians, council employees, GNR and Municipal police officers and firefighters – have been trained and certified to use the life-saving devices. They have over 170 people trained to use these, and a unique feature is that the AED cabins are opened remotely by the Albufeira fire department, which operates 24 hours a day throughout the year. When a booth is opened, all local rescuers are immediately contacted via an automatic telephone call. Read more

Albufeira’s installation of defibrillators is impressive, but will other municipalities follow?

When did you last see a defibrillator?

It’s clear that some establishments have installed these lifesaving units, but they seem to be few are far between. If the unit is not clearly available, some suggest next to the fire extinguishers, they are unlikely to be found within the very few minutes available to locate and use. If it’s kept in store cupboard (and the person with the key isn’t at work?) those vital moments are lost. Visibility and accessibility is everything.

This is where reader feedback would be really helpful and potentially lifesaving. Look around the places you regularly use, shopping centres, supermarkets, health facilities. If you feel really brave you could even ask if there is one available and if they have staff members trained to use a defibrillator.

Your feedback could make a real difference

If you are reading this online, simply use the reader comment facility at the end if the article. If you are reading this in print, please look for this article on our website and then enter your information.

With sufficient reader feedback it could be possible to create a rapid response app with the location of the nearest defibrillator. All you need to do is say where you have seen a defibrillator. It’s really that simple. If you are told that where you are doesn’t have a defibrillator installed, then share this information.

If you would like to know how to use a defibrillator, ask your local Red Cross or Bombeiros. They often have training courses available. If you can’t find a training course, then please email infodesk@theportugalnews.com and we will see what is available in your area.

This is all down to feedback, with your help, perhaps a life could be saved, perhaps even yours!


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman