Stroke patients ‘needlessly dying or suffering disability’ – Irish Heart Foundation

An estimated 800 stroke sufferers a year are at greater risk of death and disability because of an alarming fall in patients getting clot-busting treatment on time.

An Irish Heart Foundation analysis of HSE data shows just 60% of patients got to hospital within a crucial 4.5 hour window for thrombolysis in 2020 – compared to 73% six years earlier.

The latest Irish National Audit of Stroke, due out tomorrow (Jan 31) is expected to confirm a further decline in 2021 – a situation the charity describes as

‘shocking and avoidable’.

Separate research by the Foundation shows that fewer people now recall the vital FAST (Face, Arm, Speech and Time) warning signs of one of Ireland’s biggest killers.

“We need to encourage people to learn about the signs of stroke and to act as fast as possible in calling an ambulance as the faster the presentation to ED, the better the outcomes from acute treatment,” said Professor Rónán Collins, the HSE’s National Clinical Lead for Stroke.

He was speaking today (Jan 30) at the start of a new Irish Heart Foundation ‘Act FAST – Minutes Matter’ campaign aimed at reversing the trend.

“Delays in presentation undo much of the progress we have made with stroke treatments and improving outcomes and can result in extra disability or even death,” he added.

“We want people to fundamentally realise that your chances of recovery after  what might be a very serious event, are better the sooner you call an ambulance and present for treatment.

“Delaying or ’waiting to see’, for whatever reason, often leads to regret.”

The average stroke destroys around two million brain cells every minute, the condition killing 1,423 people in Ireland in 2021 and hospitalising over 6,000.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Director of Advocacy, Chris Macey, said that the reduction in prompt stroke treatment and the charity’s new Ipsos research on knowledge of the FAST signs show a “low public awareness” of the need to get to hospital without delay.

The survey of over 1,000 adults shows facial weakness or drooping is the most commonly recognised word at 35% – down from 41%.

Slurred speech is identified by 16%, down 2%, arm weakness or numbness is at 14%, down 4%, while awareness of the most vital component, Time to call 999, stands at just 12%. Only one-in-ten know what all four FAST letters stand for.

”This is both shocking and avoidable, especially the reduction in people getting to hospital on time,” said Mr Macey.

“People are needlessly dying or suffering disability by stroke, which is one condition where you can have a massive say in your own outcome.

“Twenty years ago, having a stroke was effectively a death sentence, but if we’re not getting patients into hospital on time, we are turning the clock back.”

Professor Collins added that the development of clot retrieval treatment, thrombectomy, plus further improvements in stroke services planned under the National Stroke Strategy, means the impact of timely arrival at hospital is increasing.

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