Delay in stroke treatment if patient arrives at wrong time

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Stroke patients admitted to hospital “out of hours” wait twice as long to be assessed and suffer delays in getting brain scans and a bed, according to a new report.

The study, covering NHS services in England and Northern Ireland, found “good evidence” that people admitted on weekends, evenings and bank holidays suffer worse outcomes than those admitted during routine hours.

Researchers found those patients waited twice as long on average to be assessed by a member of a stroke team (typically 188 minutes compared to 87 minutes for those admitted in hours).

The delay in being given a dedicated stroke bed is also longer for patients admitted out of hours (234 minutes compared to 211 minutes) as is the delay to receiving a brain scan (170 minutes compared to 120 minutes).

Accessing prompt care and treatment is essential to reducing the risk of death and disability from stroke, which affects around 150,000 people in the UK each year and kills about 53,000.

The data further showed that patients who suffer a stroke while already in hospital experience the “worst delays” in being assessed by a member of the stroke team and in getting a scan.

“This suggests that hospital teams need to be educated about stroke symptoms and how to contact the stroke team,” the study said.

The report, the Stroke Improvement National Audit Programme (SINAP), covering 32,113 patients, found that one in three (34 per cent) of all stroke victims were admitted to a ward that did not specialise in treating strokes.

This is despite the experts behind the study saying all patients “need immediate stroke unit care”.

While 94 per cent of patients stayed on a stroke bed at some stage during their hospital stay, a significant number did not arrive there quickly enough.

The report said commissioners should be urgently reviewing services where patients did not routinely access stroke units as soon as possible.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said care of stroke patients in hospital had improved dramatically over recent years with the most patients now treated in specialist stroke units, but there was still more to do.