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Specialist stroke care still patchy

A third of stroke patients are still not treated in specialist units even though standards have improved, a Healthcare Commission-funded audit shows.

In 2006, 62% of patients spent at least some of their time in a specialist unit compared with 46% in 2004. The increase was largely due to a rise to 91% in the proportion of eligible hospitals boasting a stroke unit. But the Royal College of Physicians, which carried out the analysis, said there was still a lack of capacity and many patients were missing out on care which would greatly increase their chance of survival and long-term recovery.Study author Dr Tony Rudd, consultant in stroke at St Thomas' Hospital and chair of the Intercollegiate Stroke Network, said: 'Too many patients receive substandard care, which is likely to result in higher death rates or greater disability than necessary.'The analysis also showed patients were not being treated quickly enough with fewer than half of patients having brain imaging to confirm their diagnosis within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. In Wales there was no increase in the number of specialist units over the past two years.Dr Stewart Findlay, a GP in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, and treasurer of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society, said care was still patchy.'Not enough people who would benefit from thrombolysis are getting to specialist stroke units in time to be assessed properly. We need to organise ourselves to get people to these units and it may mean patients have to travel further.'

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