This prospective study evaluated the acquisition and retention of skills in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of the automated external defibrillator (AED) by lay volunteers involved in the Department of Health, England National Defibrillator Programme. One hundred and twelve trainees were tested immediately before and after and initial 4-h class; 76 were similarly reassessed at refresher training 6 months later. A standardised test scenario that required assessment of the casualty, CPR and the use of on AED was evaluated using recording manikin data and video recordings. Before training only 44% of subjects delivered a shock. Afterwards, all did so and the average delay to first shock was reduced by 57 s. All trainees placed the defibrillator electrodes in an "acceptable" position after training, but very few did so in the recommended "ideal" position. After refresher training 80% of subjects used the correct sequence for CPR and shock delivery, yet a third failed to perform adequate safety checks before all shocks. The trainees self-assessed AED competence score was 86 (scale 0-100) after the initial class and their confidence that they would act in a real emergency was rated at a similar level. Initial training improved performance of all CPR skills, although all except compression rate had deteriorated after 6 months. The proportion of subjects able to correctly perform most CPR skill was higher following refresher training that after the initial class. Although this course was judged to be effective in teaching delivery of counter-shocks, the need was identified for more emphasis on positioning of electrodes, pre-shock safety checks, airway opening, ventilation volume, checking for signs of a circulation, hand positioning, and depth and rate of chest compressions.