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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Stroke patients in Wales deserve better

Having come across this latest research into acute stroke care centres, it only serves to demonstrate just how much Wales continues to lag behind other countries, including England and Ireland and how vital it is that Wales not only starts playing catch up, but that it also is at least on a par with other countries.

The research highlights how having dedicated specialist stroke centres greatly improves the acute and long-term care of patients. Being treated in such centres can double a patient’s chances of surviving a stroke and not sustaining any long-term damage. In England, nearly all hospitals have these units, yet only half of Welsh hospitals do.

The NHS reorganisation provides a golden opportunity for the new Local Health Boards to each establish specialised stroke units, not necessarily for every hospital to have a unit, but for patients to be within a reasonable travelling distance of a facility. Someone getting the best possible stroke treatment shouldn’t depend upon where they live, as seems to be the case. A patient suffering a stroke in Cardiff, close to the UHW is undoubtedly in a better position than someone in a more rural area.

Funding is a big factor in the gap between stroke services in Wales and other countries. Just taking the rest of the UK as an example, England has earmarked £105 million and Northern Ireland has set aside £14 million over three years, with a further £9m available. That compares to the Welsh Assembly Government’s £2.5 million per year for three years. And England and Northern Ireland were already ahead of Wales with regard to the quality of stroke services.

The Stroke Services Improvement Programme is visiting all parts of Wales over the summer, hopefully providing an overview of service gaps and giving indications as to what level of funding is required.

The Health, Wellbeing and Local Government Comittee is currently carrying out an inquiry into stroke services. Two of the committee’s main Terms of Reference include looking at the availability of specialist stroke units in hospitals across Wales and geographical variation in these services and the resources devoted to stroke services in Wales. So hopefully, recommdendations will be made and more importantly acted upon, which see stroke patients in Wales getting AT LEAST the same level of treatment as elsewhere in the UK. And any recommendations made in this inquiry need to be acted upon sooner, rather than later.

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