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Time for action on Stroke: patients not getting treatment they should

20 Sep 2021

“People in Northern Ireland are ending up more disabled after stroke, and indeed, more people are dying from stroke than should be, because of the failure to press on with important reforms.”

That was the message from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) at an event launching the charity’s new stroke manifesto at Stormont today.

Neil Johnston, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for the charity says;

“The need to improve stroke care in Northern Ireland was recognised several years ago but sadly little has changed since then.”

The leading local health charity said that while it understood why there had been unavoidable delays due to the collapse of the Executive and then the COVID-19 pandemic, it was concerned that stroke had ‘slipped off the agenda’.

Neil Johnston added, “We are hopefully emerging from the worst of the pandemic and we have welcomed moves by the Health Minister to restore and rebuild the local NHS. However, while he has published plans for areas including cancer and waiting lists, we have heard nothing about stroke services.”

NICHS hosted a series of events in late 2018 as part of a ‘pre-consultation exercise’ to gather public opinion on potential reforms to the stroke services here. A government consultation was later carried out in 2019. This coincided with the collapse of the NI Executive, which only reformed a matter of months before the COVID crisis developed.

Brian Gallen, a Consultant Stroke Physician and Geriatrician in the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen commented:

“There are aspects of the stroke pathway locally which are world-class such as thrombectomy. However, there is much more we can be doing.

We can prevent strokes occurring by detecting people with high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation and treating these conditions earlier.

We need improved awareness with the public regarding symptoms of TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack) also known as “mini-stroke”. We need improved access to rapid assessment for potential TIA.

Very significant investment in provision of community stroke rehabilitation services is required. The current funding and staffing of these services is totally inadequate.

We cannot continue to “kick the can down the road” on Stroke Services Reform; while in the meantime Stroke Services are not developing as they need to be. Any reform needs to be fully costed, funded and fully staffed. Stroke survivors and people who are going to have strokes in the future demand timely, effective, equitable stroke services no matter where they live in Northern Ireland.”

NICHS have launched their new stroke manifesto document in a bid to push forward change. The ‘hybrid’ online and in-person event took place at the Long Gallery at Stormont and was attended by political figures and leading health officials. The event was addressed by leading stroke consultants from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland as well as the Chief Medical Officer, Prof Sir Michael McBride.

Neil Johnston concluded;

“It is time for action. We need to press on with change. We need political figures from across the spectrum to unite behind the need for change – and support our call for action."

Download a copy of the NICHS Stroke Manifesto: