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Stroke patients failing to get rapid specialist care

One in four patients with stroke are still not receiving treatment in specialist stroke units, an audit by the Royal College of Physicians has found.

The RCP audit of all hospitals in England and Wales found improvements in stroke care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since it last conducted an audit in 2006.

But it also found many patients were still not receiving the rapid attention and diagnostic tests recommended to minimise the risk of serious damage.

The Department of Health recently launched a high-profile media campaign to encourage people to seek immediate medical attention if they suspect either they or someone they know is having a stroke.

Doctors warned that the campaign may be undermined by the paucity of access to specialist services.

The audit found only 29% of patients were admitted to a stroke unit on the same day as their stroke, and only 57% within two days.

Only 17% of patients are admitted to an acute stroke unit within four hours of admission and 21% of patients had a brain scan within three hours.

The audit also found over a quarter of patients were not screened for swallowing difficulties within 24 hours, 20% have no record of visual field testing and 15% no record of sensory testing.

Researcher Dr Tony Rudd, chair of the Intercollegiate Stroke Network, said: ‘Since the last time we looked at quality of stroke care two years ago there have been some very gratifying improvements.

‘However, services remain patchy and in some parts of the country the chances of getting good care is low.'

Professor Roger Boyle, National Director for Heart Disease and Stroke, said many improvements had been put in place, including local stroke networks.

But he added: ‘The national stroke strategy is a 10-year plan, and there are no simplistic quick-fixes to the improvements we want to see - there is still a long way to go.'

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