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Thursday, 29 October 2009

Some Good News on World Stroke Day

You might have read elsewhere that today is World Stroke Day. And that to mark the day, its been announced that an NHS initiative to speed up the treatment of stroke victims is being rolled out across Wales.

A very welcome development.

BMA Cymru recently gave evidence to the National Assembly’s Health Committee on stroke services in Wales as part of the professions ongoing campaign to improve what is one of the worst performing areas of the NHS in Wales. In almost every aspect of stroke care Wales lags behind the rest of the UK.

The new NHS initiative, overseen by the All Wales Stroke Services Improvement Collaborative, has been created over the last twelve months. It is about creating new ways of working to ensure that all stroke patients in Wales have access to automatic emergency care, and receive faster relevant treatment.

In Wales 11,000 people have a stroke each year, it’s the leading cause of disability and the country’s third biggest killer - yet for some reason Stroke hasn’t quite hit the radar of Joe Public as a major health concern.

Perhaps it’s because traditionally stroke has been seen as something that only happens to older people. That’s no longer the case – stroke can and does affect anyone.

Or perhaps it’s because in the past stroke was not considered a medical emergency. But now it’s well established that stroke victims require urgent and prompt specialist assessment and treatment – and that this is the greatest determinant of both survival and recovery.

Either way, the theme of this years World Stroke Day ‘Stroke, What Can I Do ?’ gets to the heart of the issue: that Strokes are preventable, and there is a whole lot that we as individuals can do.

Like so many other health conditions, most strokes are related to overall health and wellbeing. Almost half of all strokes in Wales could be prevented by regular blood pressure checks and by taking steps to improve overall health. I noticed that Joyce Watson AM has done some work on this issue this summer and out of the 1000 people whose blood pressure was taken, a third returned high / borderline readings – a major risk factor for stroke.

Individuals can also do something important just by knowing the symptoms of stroke, how to recognise it and what to do about them – knowing that a stroke requires a 999 response.

Our clinicians and other healthcare partners are struggling to manage the volumes of stroke patients in Wales in an environment which has a severe lack of specialists, which has far from adequate acute care provision and where rehabilitation services, to put it very mildly, are patchy.

Whilst we welcome the news that the new scheme is making improvements in stroke care in Wales – there is much more that the Assembly Government needs to do if Wales is going to achieve the standards seen elsewhere in the UK and begin to provide even an adequate level of services for stroke patients.

To that end, we have made series of recommendations on the steps that should be taken – nationally and more locally - in order to improve the provision of stroke services across Wales. Some of these will need investment, and in the current climate we realise that tough choices have to be made – but money should be chasing need and this is one area of healthcare that Wales can no longer afford to lag so far behind on.

As a priority we need to attract more stroke specialists to Wales while promoting stroke as a speciality to medical students and Junior Doctors; we must improve overall staffing levels including the number of dedicated sessions consultants can allocate to stroke care; and everyone in Wales should have access to a dedicated stroke unit (with appropriate rehabilitation and support services attached) within 30 minutes travel distance from their home.

Significant investment is needed at the acute care level, but the focus needs to be on the whole stroke journey.

What Wales needs is a comprehensive action plan on stroke.

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