Rolling out expert stroke teams across the country will ensure thousands more people ‘survive and thrive’, according to NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis.
Speaking at a recent conference, he revealed that the NHS has already saved hundreds more lives through the introduction of stroke networks across London and Manchester. A study showed that establishing ‘Hyper Acute Stroke Units’ (HASUs) in those cities was already saving 170 extra lives per year. Rolling out similar programs to other parts of the UK will mean thousands more lives saved each year. And a better quality of life for those who survive a stroke.
The HASUs bring experts and equipment under one roof to provide world-class care and treatment around the clock, reducing death rates and long-term disability. Working at the core of a network of local hospitals, these specialist units give patients faster access to diagnosis and treatment, such as brain scans, clot-busting drugs and mechanical thrombectomy.
Patients treated at the HASUs also spend less time in hospital, which is better for them and frees up staff and beds to care for more patients.
Professor Powis – who leads the NHS National Stroke Programme alongside the head of the Stroke Association – said: “Tackling killer conditions like stroke is a key part of our Long Term Plan for the NHS. Introducing quicker access to better treatment for stroke in London and Manchester has saved hundreds of lives and we now want to see them rolled out across the whole of the country.
The Stroke Association has backed the national roll-out, saying that the report showed centres of excellence can save more lives and speed recovery. Its chief executive, Juliet Bouverie, said: “When stroke strikes, part of your brain shuts down, and so does a part of you.
“That’s because a stroke happens in the brain, the control centre for who we are and what we can do. The evidence shows that reorganising stroke services to create stroke centres of excellence saves more lives and enables survivors to leave hospital sooner to start their recoveries at home. That’s why it’s so important this is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
“It’s a straightforward formula: get to the right hospital so that you are properly assessed and can receive the right treatment by the appropriate specialists round the clock. Time lost is brain lost. We cannot afford to delay this progressive approach, that is based on research and evidence.”
HASUs have operated in London since 2010 and Manchester since 2015. Prior to their introduction, patients were taken to the nearest hospital A&E department to receive immediate care, followed by treatment on a general ward. An independent analysis into the change showed that patients are now more likely to receive the right treatment sooner, and are therefore more likely to survive and recover faster and more fully.
Professor Powis also said the NHS must help more people to avoid having a stroke in the first place, by taking a more proactive approach to identifying those with cardiovascular problems and helping them manage their condition before it gets worse. More than three in five strokes could be prevented if major risk factors were managed effectively, such as treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol through lifestyle changes and medication.
The NHS Long Term Plan aims to cut strokes and heart attacks by identifying and treating people who have atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – significant causes of cardiovascular disease and stroke. As part of this, a new £9 million programme has been launched to target and provide tailored support to 20,000 people living with heart problems in 23 areas with the highest rates of stroke.
It will see specialist nurses and clinical pharmacists identify those who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation but aren’t receiving treatment, so that they can be offered a personalised treatment plan developed with their GP. NHS bosses expect this proactive approach will help prevent around 700 strokes, saving an estimated 200 lives, and provide a model for the rest of the country to follow.