On average, someone in the UK has a stroke every three and a half minutes. For these people it is a race against time to get effective treatment to prevent long-term disability and save lives.
British stoicism and 'a stiff upper lip' attitude can mean there is a tendency in this country not to bother medical staff when feeling unwell. Combine this with the recent reporting of the crisis in A&E and patients being left in ambulances for hours on end, it is perhaps not surprising that people in the UK delay seeking medical treatment. But when it comes to stroke, time is critical and these people should not fear picking up the phone and calling 999.
In February, Public Health England launched their annual Act FAST stroke campaign to highlight the importance of the need to call for 999 immediately if they suspect someone is having a stroke. For the first time, it will also set out to educate people about the symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke, in a bid to help reduce the number of people who have stroke. Figures suggest 10,000 strokes could be prevented annually if mini strokes were spotted and treated in time.
Some may hold the view that this campaign will put the already overstretched emergency services under further pressures. A&E is being brought to breaking point by an increasing number of people turning to these services for all manner of health problems but regardless of time pressures, strokes and mini-strokes are a medical emergency and A&E is exactly where they should be going. These are the people who should be encouraged to dial 999. More must also be done to educate the public on the role of A&E and drive people into their GP and pharmacist when appropriate.
A mini stroke is actually the same as a full stroke, except that the symptoms last for a shorter amount of time. This can lead to people dismissing these symptoms as nothing serious, or a 'funny turn' when in fact it is vital that they receive emergency medical treatment by calling for an ambulance. According to figures, around one in 12 of those who experience a mini stroke will go on to have a full stroke within a week.
Awareness of stroke and its symptoms is going from strength to strength, looking at the success of the annual and well-recognisable F.A.S.T stroke campaign substantiates why this worthwhile activity must continue year on year. Since the campaign launch in 2009, an additional 38,600 have got to hospital within the vital three-hour window, meaning that stroke sufferers receive the medical treatment required immediately. Over 4,000 fewer people have become disabled as a result of a stroke.
In addition, many of those that alert the medical services to their symptoms will receive treatment in a stroke unit, where the specialist care they receive means that any further risks and complications are much more likely to be spotted and addressed, preventing them from ending up in a much worse condition.
This early treatment of stroke has in fact saved an estimated £207 million in NHS care costs and by continuing to take the right action and sending the right people into A&E, we can make a real difference.