Doctors ‘failing to treat stroke as an emergency’, review warns

STROKE victims in the East Riding are suffering from a series of gaps in provision that are a “serious impediment” to their long-term health, a review has found.

Among the findings of an 18-month study by a panel of councillors were doctors failing to spot stroke victims and treat them as an emergency, concerns about the available provision when a new £19m community hospital in Beverley opens this summer, and a “severe” lack of psychological support.

The new 30-bed facility in Swinemoor Lane will see the closure of Beverley Westwood Hospital and the inpatient wards at Hornsea and District War Memorial Cottage Hospital and Driffield’s Alfred Bean Hospital.

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The research also identified a shortage of speech, language and psychological therapists, which left patients having to wait “unreasonably long periods” for treatment.

The panel found conflicting evidence of whether stroke victims would receive better treatment in Hull or the East Riding.

Anecdotal evidence suggested doctors in Hull were less effective in dealing with stroke victims than their counterparts in the East Riding.

The report said: “The panel was informed by one of the stroke consultants and one of the stroke co-ordinators at Hull Royal Infirmary that they were seeing patients coming into hospital via their own transport with symptoms of stroke instead of coming in by ambulance, which was the correct procedure. These patients had been referred by GPs who had not called for an ambulance.

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“It was also their opinion there was a lack of general awareness from GPs about stroke and the best way to deal with people presenting with symptoms, although they thought the problem lay predominantly with the Hull-based GPs as opposed to the ones working in the East Riding.”

However, other professionals thought stroke patients in Hull fared better.

The panel highlighted the case of a “Mrs S” who suffered a stroke last year.

She went to her GP who was not sure what the problem was and sent her to a hospital accident and emergency department. She was sent home from there having being told her ailment was stress or anxiety, but she was back in two days and a scan revealed she had suffered multiple strokes.

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Mrs S was left with severe speech and language problems and a therapist at Hull Royal Infirmary told her that “if she was a resident in Hull rather than the East Riding, better treatment would be available”.

The National Stroke Strategy says that delays in identifying the symptoms of stroke lead to poorer outcomes for patients, and a Department of Health campaign in 2009 was specifically aimed at raising awareness of the importance of getting stroke victims to hospital quickly.

Statistics around stroke make grim reading.

It is the greatest single cause of severe disability in the UK, with one occurring every five minutes. Stroke is the third most common cause of death worldwide and accounts for 53,000 deaths in the UK each year.

A third of all stroke victims are likely to die within the first 10 days, a third recover within a month and a third suffer disabilities.

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A total of 613 people suffered a stroke in the East Riding in 2009/10, costing the local primary care trust £2.87m.

The panel makes 20 recommendations, including the maintenance of “robust and consistent” registers of stroke and mini-stroke patients at all GP surgeries. It also calls for a review of stroke provision 12 months after the opening of the new hospital.

The findings will go before East Riding Council’s health scrutiny committee next Tuesday.