Let's make 2024 the year of stroke prevention policies: Rachael Maskell

I used to be a physiotherapist working in acute care, specialising in stroke care. I serve on the all-party parliamentary group on stroke. We believe there is real scope for change within the Government’s approach to help our constituents not only to prevent stroke, but to survive stroke, and to benefit from that.

Every single five minutes, somebody will experience a stroke. For some people, it will be brief—a transient ischaemic attack. For other people, it will clearly be very serious indeed, and for some people it will lead to mortality.

The urgency is now, and we cannot lose time. Over the course of a year, around 100,000 individuals experience stroke, but that means that 100,000 families also come into contact with the NHS. As a result, it is really important that the Government renew their focus.

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I suggest that we make 2024 a year of stroke, so that we really bring that focus down to deliver. If we had that focus across the system, we could make such a difference.

Rachael Maskell is the Labour (Co-op) MP for York Central.Rachael Maskell is the Labour (Co-op) MP for York Central.
Rachael Maskell is the Labour (Co-op) MP for York Central.

Stroke is very avoidable. Of the people who experience it, 80 per cent will have risk factors that can be controlled. We must talk about prevention.

We must look at how we prevent individuals having stroke. Of course, we can undertake monitoring, for instance around blood pressure, with high blood pressure being an indicator and also atrial fibrillation.

This is also about lifestyle choices; it is really important that we remember that smoking is still a major cause of stroke. We must ensure that individuals have early help, not least if there is a familial issue with stroke, to see how we can avoid that.

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I also want to talk about health checks. It is really important to make those early interventions. One in four people who experience a stroke are under retirement age, so we must remember that it is often younger people who experience the need for this process.

The health checks that came in for those aged 40 are not often applied within integrated care board areas. We need a real sea change there, because monitoring things such as what is happening with blood pressure as early as we can, with really quick tests, can make a sizeable difference.

Response is too slow, and I want to challenge the system. For ambulances, a stroke is currently a category 2 call. I would like it to be made a category 1 call and the response expedited, because every minute that passes in the golden hour can make a difference to somebody’s future and whether they will experience severe disability—or, indeed, die—or receive interventions that could prevent such disability. Changing the categorisation would save both money and lives.

I turn to diagnosis. In a country like Germany, individuals are diagnosed at the kerbside, at home, or wherever they have their stroke, and the process will start immediately. At the point that the patient is experiencing deficits – perhaps they are still going through a cerebral event – or as soon as the ambulance is called, the clock starts on the diagnostic process and then treatment.

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Being able to undertake the diagnostic process really early means being able to get the information into the stroke unit of the hospital as early as possible, so that when the patient arrives at the door, they are whipped through the system and interventions can start. The problem is that we have such a time lag that intervention is often too late.

We have an opportunity next year to make a seismic difference to individuals by focusing on stroke.

Rachael Maskell is Labour MP for York Central. This is an edited version of a recent Westminster Hall speech.