Pioneering treatment which ‘brings patients back to life’ from stroke to be launched at Norfolk hospital

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. NNUH

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. NNUH - Credit: Nick Butcher

A little-used procedure which is said to 'bring back to life' stroke patients will soon be provided in Norwich if ambitious visions at the county's flagship hospital go ahead.

Norman Lamb. Photo: PA / Andrew Matthews

Norman Lamb. Photo: PA / Andrew Matthews - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) is hoping to become a stroke hub, one of just two in the east of England, which can provide thrombectomies.

A thrombectomy is used for the most severe stroke patients and involves manually removing a clot from a blood vessel in the brain using mechanical devices.

It can only be used to treat certain types of acute ischaemic stroke and is only used in 25 of England's hospitals, but the impact is thought to be life-changing and has been likened to reversing the effects of a stroke.

Doctors at St George's Hospital in London, where the procedure has been carried out for at least two years, said people left unconscious or unable to speak or move by major strokes made dramatic, sometimes instant, recoveries when the procedure was used.

Mark Davies, Chief Executive of the NNUH. Picture: Keiron Tovell

Mark Davies, Chief Executive of the NNUH. Picture: Keiron Tovell - Credit: Keiron Tovell

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Dr Joe Leyon, an interventional neuroradiologist at St George's, previously said: 'It's fair to say they have been brought back to life.'

Norman Lamb, a former health minister and MP for north Norfolk, suffered a stroke earlier this year and said he was 'thrilled' with the news.

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He said: 'Thrombectomy can have a amazing impact on recovery from stroke and it's an issue I've taken up with government obviously with my particular interest. I'm thrilled but we've just got to now make sure the patients of Norfolk get access to the best and specialist stroke care 24/7. But this is a big breakthrough.'

One case of using thrombectomy during early trials saw a 17-year-old girl from Surrey able to speak again immediately after the procedure.

Richard Parker, chief operating officer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation T

Richard Parker, chief operating officer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. - Credit: Archant

Mark Davies, hospital chief executive, told the board of directors meeting today that before they could start the service they had to open the new interventional radiology unit which was being built.

He said: 'The plan is the first patients will be in in November 2019.'

This would then free up space to carry out thrombectomy, with patients from all over the county heading to the hospital for the procedure, which can see patients leaving hospital the next day.

Between 2011 and 2015 3,543 people died due to stroke in Norfolk with thousands more left with lasting effects.

At the moment patients who have suffered stroke are taken to a stroke unit for brain imaging within an hour and are then given thrombolysis - medication to break down and dissolve the clot.

But it is believed travelling slightly further to a site which provides thrombectomy, to remove the clot in a similar way to how the procedure is carried out for heart attacks, could make a significant differences in the number of people left with long lasting effects.

The treatment sees a small tube inserted into an artery in the groin and manoeuvred towards the brain. The blood clot is then either sucked into the tube or pulled out with a small wire which is barely the breadth of a hair.

Richard Parker, chief operating officer, said it was an important step for Norfolk as if the only centre was an Addenbrooke's in Cambridge it would leave patients with a long way to travel.

He said: 'All three of Norfolk's hospitals have stroke services but for a certain set of those patients this will give them much better outcomes. It will have a massive impact on stroke care generally but if we think about the secondary costs of stroke, you've got a small window to limit the damage. But the results are really startling for the right patients.'

Neil Chapman, support manager at the Stroke Association, said: 'Thrombectomy is a real game changer which can save lives, and reduce the chances of someone being severely disabled after a stroke. Stroke is the fourth biggest killer in the UK, and a leading cause of disability. Before the advent of thrombectomy, treatment options for stroke patients were limited to the clot busting drug thrombolysis, which does not always work.

'This decision by Norfolk and Norwich Hospital could give hundreds of critically ill stroke patients a better chance of making a recovery; with more stroke survivors living independently in their own homes, returning to work and taking control of their lives again as a result. And this will undoubtedly lower NHS and social care costs for stroke, which are currently over £1 billion a year.'

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