People urged to act FAST as new stroke treatment begins
14 September 2009
Patients who have suffered a suspected stroke have been urged to act FAST and call an ambulance immediately to dramatically improve their chances of making a good recovery.
The call comes after West Suffolk Hospital began offering rapid clot-busting thrombolysis treatment to patients who have suffered a specific type of stroke.
Thrombolysis saves lives and minimises disability, but is suitable for around 10% of stroke patients, and only those whose stroke has been caused by a blood clot. For the treatment to be effective, it must be given usually within three hours of the patient first noticing their symptoms.
Now specialists at the hospital have urged people to familiarise themselves with the signs of stroke outlined in the Government's Act FAST advertising campaign – and call for an ambulance immediately if they notice any problems with their face, arms or speech.
"The introduction of thrombolysis at West Suffolk Hospital is a significant step forward for our stroke service and great news for our patients," said Dr Anne Nicolson, lead consultant for stroke at the hospital.
"The treatment is only suitable for certain patients, but has to be administered usually within three hours of the first symptoms emerging. It is therefore essential that anyone who has suffered a suspected stroke calls for an ambulance as quickly as possible – no matter how minor their symptoms may be.
"If you are the patient, please don't drive yourself to the hospital, even if your symptoms are improving. Don't call your GP either – just ring 999 immediately for an ambulance. Come to hospital urgently, preferably with someone who has witnessed your symptoms.
"The expression 'time is brain' is entirely true for every type of stroke, so it is absolutely essential that we assess patients as early as possible."
Once the ambulance service receives a call to a suspected stroke, paramedics immediately alert West Suffolk while keeping them updated while they carry out initial assessments.
The hospital's emergency stroke outreach team, which is made up of specialist stroke nurses and a specialty doctor, supported by consultants, will then stand by in A&E to assess the patient as soon as they arrive.
After a scan has been carried out to determine the cause of the stroke, a decision will be made on whether people are suitable for thrombolysis.
"Our emergency stroke outreach team has been in place since January, and has been of real benefit to patients by making sure each and every one can be assessed more quickly," added Dr Nicolson.
"This means we can help get stroke patients into our specialist unit early. Here, they can get the expert help they need and have a much better chance of making a fuller recovery."
The hospital has also recently employed a third stroke consultant, Dr Rabi Chanda, who joined the team in June and works alongside West Suffolk's two existing consultants, Dr Nicolson and Dr Abul Azim.
"The introduction of our stroke thrombolysis service and the appointment of a third specialist consultant are significant news for the hospital and the patients we care for," said Gwen Nuttall, executive chief operating officer at the hospital.
"We are now able to assess patients much more quickly, which allows us to make sure they are receiving the specialist care they need as early as possible. This has helped many patients to recover more fully while also reducing the length of time they need to spend in hospital."
The thrombolysis service at West Suffolk is available between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. Outside of these times, the ambulance service will assess and transfer the patient to the nearest 24-hour/ seven-day thrombolysis centre, if appropriate.
Dr Nick Morton, joint medical director of the East of England Ambulance Service, said: "The ambulance service is very keen to build on the work we are doing with the hospitals in the region on stroke care and would urge patients who are suspected of having a stroke to seek 999 assistance. Time matters as any delay results in irreparable brain destruction."