Stroke patients 'at risk in the NHS' as staffing levels need improvement 

  •  9,000 patients a year are missing out on the latest lifesaving treatment
  •  51% of hospitals have recommended number of nurses on stroke wards
  •  Professor Pippa Tyrrell said: ‘There is still a great deal to be done’ 

Thousands of stroke patients are at risk due to poor care in NHS hospitals, a series of reports reveal today.

An alarming shortage of specialist consultants and registered nurses, insufficient staffing at weekends and unacceptable delays in treatment are leaving patients at risk of permanent injury or even death. 

Meanwhile, nearly 9,000 patients a year are missing out on the latest lifesaving treatment, experts have calculated.

Around half of all hospitals have the recommended number of nurses on stroke wards STOCK PHOTO

Around half of all hospitals have the recommended number of nurses on stroke wards STOCK PHOTO

Stroke care has dramatically improved over the last decade, with the creation of a network of specialist units across the country.

But health campaigners last night said these advances could be reversed if health ministers do not take control.

Three major reports into stroke care reveal today:

Only 51 percent of hospitals have the recommended number of nurses on stroke wards, a figure that drops to 20 per cent at weekends;

40 percent of stroke services have at least one unfilled stroke consultant post – up from 26 percent in 2014;

In 28 percent of services patients go for days at a time without seeing a consultant, despite guidelines that say each ward should have a daily specialist round seven days a week;

53 percent of patients wait more than an hour to receive vital scans after they arrive at hospital – and 10 per cent wait more than 12 hours;

Only 600 patients each year in Britain receive a mechanical thrombectomy – a cutting edge procedure which clears clots in the brain. Up to 9,750 could benefit from the treatment.

The Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme – an official audit of stroke services commissioned by the NHS – warned that staffing issues were a ‘concern’. Today it publishes two annual reports – one into staffing levels and one into patient outcomes.

A third report – a study of mechanical thrombectomy led by Oxford University and presented at the UK Stroke Forum Conference in Liverpool – reveals that the best treatments are not being made available to enough patients.

An estimated 150,000 people have a stroke each year in Britain. A quarter die within a year, and of the survivors, half are left with long-lasting disability, which can include paralysis, speech problems and personality changes.

Professor Pippa Tyrrell, who runs the audit programme at the Royal College of Physicians on behalf of the NHS, said: ‘Stroke care has improved beyond recognition in the last 20 years.

‘Patients are almost routinely being admitted to specialist stroke units where, in general, they receive high quality care, they stay in hospital for a very much shorter period of time, and are often discharged to early supported discharge services where rehabilitation continues at home.’

But she added: ‘There is still a great deal to be done to ensure that everyone with acute stroke gets the evidence-based care that they need, and that they and their carers feel well supported.’

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, welcomed the progress made in recent years. But she added: ‘These latest figures reveal a worrying postcode lottery of stroke care.

‘In some areas, stroke patients still wait over 12 hours for a vital brain scan. When people are denied swift treatment, such as brain scans, their recoveries are put at risk.

‘The figures also lay bare an alarming shortage of stroke consultants and specialist nurses.

‘This shortage must be urgently addressed.’

She called on the Government to draw up a major new strategy for stroke care, on the same model of the ‘Cancer Taskforce’ published to deal with poor survival for cancer patients in the UK last year.

‘Without a stroke strategy in place, the progress we’ve made in stroke care will be lost,’ Mrs Bouverie said.

As a minimum, there should be 2.4 higher grade nurses for every 10 stroke beds – but only 51 per cent of hospitals currently meet this target.

On weekends, there should be at least three registered nurses on duty per 10 stroke beds, but only 20 per cent hit this target.

Thrombectomy – where surgeons use a stent on the end of a wire to carefully remove blockages from the brain – is only available in a limited number of units and only on weekdays.

It is proven to save lives, especially in major strokes where clot-busting drugs cannot remove the blockage.

A new study published today suggests up to 9,750 could benefit from the procedure – yet only 600 currently receive it.

We are committed to improving support for stroke survivors to ensure the same access to care, seven days a week 
Department of Health 

Professor Tony Rudd, national clinical director for stroke at NHS England, said: ‘These latest findings acknowledge the continued improvements in NHS stroke care which is now at record levels, along with survival rates.

‘Stroke mortality has fallen by 46 per cent since 1990 and we will continue to work closely with hospitals and others to further build on this success.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We are committed to improving support for stroke survivors to ensure the same access to care, seven days a week.

‘Good progress is being made with 92 per cent of stroke patients now receiving a brain scan within 12 hours of arriving in hospital and other parts of country, following London’s example of centralising hyper acute stroke care, estimated to have cut the likelihood of dying by almost 30 per cent.’

Health | Mail Online