Concerns over controversial heart ‘drug’ trial by North East Ambulance Service

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AMBULANCE chiefs have issued reassurances over a controversial NHS trial that will see patients whose hearts have stopped beating given a dummy drug.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is one of a number of ambulance trusts taking part in a new health trial, which will see paramedics giving cardiac arrest patients a placebo containing salt water instead of the standard injection of adrenalin, before carrying out CPR.

There are concerns that, although widely used by doctors and paramedics, adrenaline has limited effect and could even cause brain damage.

The £2.75m trial, which will begin this autumn on 8,000 patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest, is aimed at assessing whether adrenaline shots actually increase survival rates.

But the research is regarded as highly controversial, as patients and their relatives will not be told whether they have been given adrenaline or the placebo.

Even paramedics will not know which method they are using on the patient.

The £2.75m scheme is being funded by the Department of Health’s National Institute of Health Research.

There will be advertising campaigns telling patients how to opt out if they wish.

Around 50,000 people in Britain suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital every year and only around six per cent survive.

Adrenaline injections have been given as part of CPR since the 1960s, but recently doubts have been raised over their effectiveness.

An NEAS spokeswoman said: “There is some evidence from small studies that adrenaline – the current drug used on cardiac arrest patients – may not help overall survival and may actually be harmful to patients.

“The only way to prove which treatment is best for patients is to carry out a large study.

“This particular trial has been debated and endorsed by an NHS Ethics Committee, which is made up of medical experts, lay people and patients.

“To make the trial fair, paramedics will not know if they are giving adrenaline or a placebo (saline – routinely used when preparing injections).

“NEAS has a national reputation for pioneering research, resulting in safer and more effective treatments for patients.”

Professor Martin Underwood, leading the trials at Warwick University, said: “The need to do this research is underpinned by a serious concern that although using adrenaline might help restart the heart in the short term, it causes severe brain damage leading to death a few hours or days later.

“We want the best possible outcomes for all people who have a cardiac arrest, both now and in the future.”

He added that adrenaline has never been formally tested in humans with enough numbers to inform reliably whether it is helpful or harmful.

Prof Underwood said recent studies have created “substantial concern” among doctors, nurses, paramedics and patients that adrenaline may be harmful when used as a treatment for cardiac arrest.

He said specifically, recent research has shown that adrenaline reduces blood supply to the brain which can lead to severe brain damage and death.