Stroke units fail to reach top marks

MARK NICHOLLS Hundreds of stroke sufferers may be dying needlessly because of a postcode lottery for specialist care, new figures have revealed. More than a third of those struck down do not receive treatment on a stroke unit where their prospects are considerably better, a national audit found.

MARK NICHOLLS

Hundreds of stroke sufferers may be dying needlessly because of a postcode lottery for specialist care, new figures have revealed.

More than a third of those struck down do not receive treatment on a stroke unit where their prospects are considerably better, a national audit found.

In Norfolk and Suffolk the four key hospitals - the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital; Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn; James Paget University Hospital (JPH) at Gorleston and the West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds - have an acute stroke unit or a specialist stroke unit.

However, none were among the best in the country, with JPH in the lower group.

The new research in the National Stroke Sentinel Audit 2006, carried out by the Royal College of Physicians and funded by the Healthcare Commission, found considerable disparities in the quality of care offered across Eng-land, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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In particular, it found that patients in Wales are more likely to die, or if they survive suffer higher levels of disability, than elsewhere. In Wales only 28pc of patients are treated in a stroke unit, compared with an average across the three countries of 62pc with figures of 64pc in England and 73pc in Northern Ireland.

The stroke audit also classed hospitals in how organised they were in dealing with patients who have suffered a stroke.

JPH was among the least well organised for care, though staff say improvements have been put in place in recent months.

Last night Andrew Fox, JPH divisional manager for the emergency division, said: “We have a team of clinicians and managers dedicated to developing the standard of our local stroke services.

We have used the results of the Sentinel Audit to change our practice, including setting up a dedicated inpatient ward for stroke care in 2006.”

Stroke co-ordinator Evie Cooper said “Physiotherapy and occupa-tional therapy levels have been significantly enhanced over the last year on our new stroke ward. This helps patients achieve the best possible outcomes and prepares them for their return home.”

The other three hospitals were regarded as occupying the middle ground in the way they respond to stroke patients, and none were in the “upper quartile” as the best organised.

N&N spokesman Andrew Stronach said: “In recent years solid progress has been made with stroke services and this has been confirmed in the latest study. There is still more to do and we are working with Norfolk PCT to improve stroke services from the acute through to the rehabilitation stage.”

Joe Korner, of the Stroke Association, said the government must ensure that the quality of stroke care did not come down to chance.

He said: “Stroke units can halve your chance of dying from a stroke, so it is a scandal that getting treated on one is a matter of luck or your postcode.”

Every year, over 130,000 people in the UK have a stroke, which is a brain injury caused by a sudden interruption in blood flow, often caused by a blood clot blockage or sudden bleeding.

Dr Jonathan Boyce, of the Healthcare Commission, said: “There is still too much variation, too many places and regions that are not responding as well as they could to minimise the harm done by this serious and common condition.”

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