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Why We're Calling for a New Era for Stroke

18/05/2016 15:22 | Updated 18 May 2016

Across the United Kingdom, communities, organisations, supporters, carers, families and stroke survivors are joining the Stroke Association as we celebrate our fifth annual awareness month, now known as Make May Purple for stroke. All manner of things have been lit up, dressed up, painted, planted and baked purple for stroke (#MakeMayPurple). Everyone's doing a brilliant job helping to raise awareness of this devastating condition and our charity's work.

While it's great to see so many people coming together and having fun, there's also the serious side of stroke. It's a devastating condition that strikes in an instant, but its effects can last a lifetime. Today (17 May), the Stroke Association is launching our latest campaign, A New Era for Stroke, which calls on the Government to commit to a new National Stroke Strategy for England. The current strategy ends in 2017 (stroke strategies for the other UK nations will end over the next few years).

Ten years ago, we were developing our campaign for the first ever National Stroke Strategy, and that success saw many great achievements in the way stroke is treated. Prior to that, stroke was viewed across the board, including by health professionals, as a sad, but inevitable part of the ageing process and was considered largely untreatable. Thankfully, developments in stroke treatment and life-changing support for survivors through medicine, research and technology have positively transformed outcomes for stroke patients today. While much progress has been made in the way stroke is treated in hospital, the level of care some stroke survivors receive when they return home falls shamefully short of what they should be getting.

The Stroke Association surveyed over 1,100 stroke survivors in England earlier this year and found that while many people received first class care and support in hospital, this did not carry through on their return home. Almost half (45%) of stroke survivors told us they felt abandoned following their discharge from hospital. These findings are deeply concerning and serve as a stark reminder that, while we have made major strides in the way we treat stroke, we now need to ensure that stroke survivors are given the support they need to have a life after stroke.

With the National Stroke Strategy coming to an end in 2017 (and actually, already sadly archived on the Department of Health Website), and with the Government telling MPs they have no plans to create a new one, we have nothing in place to safeguard the progress we've made. This will jeopardise stroke survivors' recoveries and could put lives at risk.

Without a national strategy, stroke survivors will, as our survey shows, continue to miss out on the therapy and support they desperately need to cope with the physical, mental and emotional impact of stroke. Good support following discharge from hospital makes all the difference to a person's recovery. It can help a stroke survivor take their first steps, and re-learn how to speak. We also know that stroke survivors are more likely to make a much better recovery and regain their independence if they have access to therapies, such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

But stroke survivors have told us that they have to wait weeks - and in some cases months - for the support and therapy they need to rebuild their lives. For too many people, their support comes too late, it stops too soon, or they don't have access to the range of therapies they need.

The current National Stroke Strategy for stroke, which evolved largely from our campaigning activity and the launch of our 2005 manifesto, provided long overdue national leadership and ring-fenced funding for stroke. A central part of the strategy was the creation of specialist stroke units (Hyper Acute Stroke Units) in hospitals, where stroke experts, such as consultants, nurses, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists, were brought together under one roof. Ambitious targets for the rapid assessment and treatment of stroke patients were also set.

This reorganisation of acute care over the past 16 years means that today, stroke is treated as a medical emergency. More people are treated in specialist stroke units after arriving at hospital, and get rapid access to brain scans and treatment, such as clot busting drugs. There's also better public and professional awareness of stroke, thanks to national advertising campaigns, such as FAST.

Sadly, as our survey clearly shows, these improvements have not carried through to the support stroke survivors need when they return home. This is preventing people from leading full, independent lives, and is increasing the risk of avoidable readmissions to hospital. We know that there are people out there doing great work across health and social care - people who really understand the physical and emotional shockwaves that stroke can bring. But this must become the norm, not a privilege, for stroke survivors. They must be supported throughout their recovery - from hospital to home.

A gentleman I spoke to recently summed it up best in a most heart breaking yet powerful way: "The difference between getting and not getting the support you need after a stroke is the difference between living and existing." This is not acceptable. No one plans for a stroke, but the Government can, and should, ensure that the right care and support is there when people need it most.

To make this a reality, we urgently need the British public to get behind our campaign. As part of A New Era for Stroke, we've launched a petition, which calls on the Government to commit to a new stroke strategy. With the scale of disability, long-term illness and premature death caused by stroke predicted to more than double by 2030 globally, obesity and diabetes rates rising at unprecedented levels, and a rapidly ageing population, a renewed national focus on stroke is vital to build on the achievements of the national stroke strategy. The voices of stroke survivors are too powerful to ignore. The Government must act now and bring in a new era for stroke.

To sign our petition for a new stroke strategy, visit: www.stroke.org.uk/newera

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