BBC Home > BBC News > Health

NHS stroke plan 'will save lives'

5 December 07 11:18 GMT

The government is promising its 10-year stroke strategy for England will save thousands of lives by ensuring people get quicker access to care.

Ministers will call for more awareness, fast diagnosis through brain scans and immediate access to drugs.

They believe these measures can save 6,800 deaths and cases of disability and prevent 1,600 strokes.

A £105m pot has been set aside for training and awareness campaigns, but critics said the plans were overdue.

Many have argued - and the government accepted - that improvements in stroke care have not kept pace with the developments seen with cancer and heart disease services.

Strokes are the third biggest killer - behind cancer and heart disease - responsible for 50,000 deaths a year.

But despite increases in funding in recent years, death rates still lag behind most of Europe.

One of the key problems is that less than half of patients receive brain scans within 24 hours to confirm they have had a stroke, according to the Stroke Association.

The strategy says it is time to "close the gap" on heart and cancer services.

Strokes happen when the blood supply to parts of the brain is interrupted, either through a burst blood vessel, or a vessel blocked by a blood clot.

A £12m campaign is to be launched to help people identify the symptoms of stroke - weakness in the face and arms, and speech problems.

Scans

And the strategy has demanded the NHS provides fast access to MRI scans for those suffering mini strokes, known as transient ischaemic attacks, which are a good indicator a person will at some point have a full stroke.

Those from high risk groups, determined by analysing factors such as age and blood pressure, should have scans within 24 hours of the symptoms, while those with a low risk should get one within seven days.

Only a third of those who suffer mini strokes get MRIs within seven days at the moment.

This measure alone could lead to an 80% reduction in the numbers who go on to have a full stroke, the strategy predicts.

And for those who have full strokes, a brain scan should be done immediately to determine whether clot-busting drugs are required.

All local areas should have access to a 24/7 specialist stroke unit with money being made available to train more staff to run them.

And the strategy also demands stroke victims be provided with good quality rehabilitation services.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "This is a bold vision for delivery of world-class stroke services, from prevention right through to life-long support.

"There is no excuse for standing still."

And government stroke tsar Professor Roger Boyle said: "There is a huge momentum to put this right."

Jon Barrick, chief executive of the Stroke Association, added: "This is a momentous opportunity to transform the outcomes and lives of stroke survivors."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley welcomed the strategy, but said the government has been too slow to act.

"It has taken the government years to produce a stroke strategy. This is a scandal."

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "Ministers have to make sure that the good ideas are actually implemented."

Related BBC sites

*