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Stroke Association warns patients in Northern Ireland are being let down



Continued delays in creating centres of excellence for stroke care are leaving stroke patients in Northern Ireland to be severely let down.

It has been a year since the launch of the Department of Health’s Reshaping Stroke Care Action Plan, yet the Department of Health have failed to make firm plans for the transformation of stroke services and the development of hyper acute stroke units.

The Action Plan had originally committed to deciding on a future model for stroke care in Northern Ireland by summer of this year, of course there is still time, but continued delays are causing doubts.

The proposed Action Plan will pave the way forward from improving stroke services in Northern Ireland across six priority areas including thrombectomy, developing stroke care, as well as post-stroke care.

Last June, Health Minister at the time, Robin Swann cautioned that “we can and must do better for stroke patients and carers.”

The Stroke Association have warned that because of these continued delays, opportunities to save lives and improve outcomes for stroke survivors are being missed.

Associate director for the Stoke Association in Northern Ireland, says: “There are around 5,000 hospital admissions due to stroke a year and around 1,000 stroke-related deaths. Many of those who survive are left with profound disabilities.

““Historically, stroke services have been provided by local hospitals, but this means they are often spread too thinly to maintain the necessary quality care and staffing levels.

“We have seen the implications of this with the recent withdrawal of stroke services from Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry due to staffing issues.

“While being treated on any stroke unit is better than not being treated on one at all, we know that larger stroke units work more effectively than smaller ones and, most importantly, deliver better outcomes for patients.

“To survive a stroke, you need the right ambulance to take you to the right hospital for the right treatment as quickly as possible. That means hospitals with stroke units open 24/7 with specialist staff and equipment ready to rapidly diagnose and treat patients.

“Research from elsewhere in the UK shows that reorganising stroke services and ensuring that every patient is cared for on a hyperacute stroke unit can save lives and reduce length of hospital stay.

“In Northumbria, a mostly rural area similar to Northern Ireland, centralising three acute stroke units into one hyperacute stroke unit reduced the total length of hospital stay for patients by nearly five days and shortened the time taken for patients to receive thrombolysis – clot-busting drugs – by 26 minutes.

“This is hugely important when every minute matters. The Welsh Government is also transforming their stroke services. It’s vital that Northern Ireland doesn’t fall behind in terms of providing a progressive stroke service for patients and the workforce.”

O’Hara did note some of the positives that the Department for Health have made towards the Stroke Care Action Plan, he says: “It’s important to acknowledge that there have been some successes and we should celebrate these.

“Northern Ireland is a leader in treating patients with thrombectomy – a game-changing procedure where the clot is literally plucked from someone’s brain, instantly restoring blood flow.

“We are optimistic that the Department of Health and medical professionals will be able to make this service available 24/7 to everyone who could benefit from it in the not-too-distant future.

“We now need to move forward with the standardisation and improvement of hospital stroke services – patients and the workforce cannot afford to wait any longer.”

The Department of Health have provided an update on the progress of the Action Plan, stating: “The achievement of the timescales set out in the Reshaping Stroke Care Action Plan regarding Hyperacute Stroke Care were contingent on securing additional expertise and capacity to support the process.

“Following an unsuccessful procurement exercise, the Department was unable to proceed as initially planned, requiring consideration of alternative ways forward. Subject to capacity and resource constraints, it is hoped that approval for a revised way forward will be secured later in the summer.

“While the Department continues to face a very challenging environment, every effort will be made to progress the reform of stroke services.”