The National Clinical Guideline for Stroke, published in April 2023, is an initiative of the intercollegiate stroke working party made up of representatives from the professional bodies involved in stroke care. National regional SQuIRe managers, who are responsible for managing stroke services, are working with integrated stroke delivery networks and newly formed integrated care systems to implement the NHS integrated community stroke service and improve the provision of community-based stroke rehabilitation.
My Lords, the update of the national stroke guidelines is welcome, particularly its now UK-wide remit, with one of its major changes being significant expansion in the number of patients eligible for thrombolysis and thrombectomy. Given that both these powerful clot-busting interventions are most effective the faster they are used following a stroke, what assessment has been made of the impact of the current NHS delays in the expansion of their respective uses and how will the Government ensure that ICSs address the huge regional variations in both thrombectomy and in the vital post-stroke rehabilitation in hospital and at home that is so necessary?
First, I thank the noble Baroness for the work that she does in this area; I know that it is very close to her heart. I have set up a meeting with the NHS COO David Sloman and with Sarah-Jane Marsh, and would be delighted if the noble Baroness would like to join me. The benefit of these sessions is always the shining of a light on areas.
It is vital that people are seen within the first hour; currently 59% of people are, which is an improvement on the last couple of years when the figure was 55%. However, we would all agree that we want that number to be as high as possible. The SQuIRe managers’ job is to make sure that all the different integrated care boards are delivering best practice in each area.
I thank my noble friend. The NHS delivery plan set out in January 2023 was trying to set out the best practice in this area. It is then the job of the SQuIRe managers to make sure that that is implemented in each area. One example is that they are trialling having videos in ambulances in certain areas so that paramedics can speak to stroke experts. We all know that getting patients to the right place quickly is vital, so I hope that that is another example of best practice that we can roll out.
My Lords, these guidelines are very encouraging, and all who work on them should be congratulated. As we keep hearing, the essence is speed if we are to treat effectively, yet this is particularly difficult in rural areas, especially remote rural areas. What additional help is being given to integrated care boards’ care systems to ensure that our rural integrated care boards can deliver these guidelines, which are so vital?
The job of each integrated care board and the regional SQuIRe managers within it is to make sure that they are catering for the needs of their area. Clearly, rural areas present more challenges in terms of speed of access to the relevant stroke services. At the same time, there has been a rollout of the integrated stroke networks that can perform the clot-busting treatments to make sure that we have more of them located in the right places.
My Lords, we are fortunate to have the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme—SSNAP—to help us monitor compliance with the national guideline. In its very good easy access report for the first quarter of this year, it tells us that three out of five stroke patients are not taken to a stroke unit immediately and it calls for urgent action in this area. What are the Government doing to make sure that stroke patients are immediately admitted to stroke units in line with that guideline?
The noble Lord is absolutely correct. As mentioned, speed to the right place is vital; videos in ambulances are one way of communicating ahead and speaking to the paramedics so that they are ready to receive them, which is really important. The latest data I have seen is that 92% of people are now sent straight to the stroke ward on arrival, which sounds promising but is somewhat at odds with the Sentinel figure he mentioned. I will find out more about that and get back to the noble Lord.
I speak with experience, having seen my wife suffer a very serious stroke more than a decade ago. As the right reverend Prelate said, speed is of the essence. Not one but two ambulances arrived within 15 minutes and she was in hospital within 25 minutes; they saved her life at Chester County Hospital. Does the Minister agree that things have got worse and worse over the last decade and that, unfortunately, people are dying?
I agree that last winter was particularly difficult; as we all know, ambulance wait times were too long, which undoubtedly caused issues. We have a recovery plan for the emergency services and have invested more in ambulances, but it is all about flow, which we have spoken about many times in this House, and making sure that people can get to where they need to be as soon as possible.
My Lords, I will take this opportunity to ask my noble friend a more general question about guidelines. I am sure he receives correspondence about parts of the NHS not meeting guidelines, not only on strokes but on other issues. What are the Government and the NHS doing to make sure that, where there are guidelines, they are followed through and adopted by ICSs and medical practitioners right across the system?
I thank my noble friend. As we all agree, there are always two steps involved: setting out the guidelines that we believe are best practice and making sure that they are then implemented. ICBs have that responsibility and regional managers look into them. As I think I have mentioned before, each Minister personally takes charge of six or seven ICBs—I will visit a few of them in the next few weeks during Recess—so we can make sure that they are really delivering on the ground.
My Lords, the Getting It Right First Time report has shown that 29 recommendations are needed for strokes and its wider programme has shown what works in the healthcare system to improve care and save lives. What levers do the Government have when integrated care boards do not implement best practice to save lives and improve health in an area?
There are a number of things. For want of a better phrase, we have a tier rating for the different trusts and hospitals and they can be put into the equivalent of special measures—that is not the right term, but the noble Lord knows what I am referring to. Ultimately, the NHS and Ministers also have the ability to hire and fire, as we know that leadership is vital in all these areas.
My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my registered interests. It is clearly important that stroke networks are properly supported to deliver clinical care efficiently and effectively but, beyond the capacity to do that, there must also be ongoing capacity to participate in further research and development and to provide the opportunity for appropriate clinical evaluation of innovations that will yet further improve outcomes for those suffering ischemic stroke. Is the Minister content that there is sufficient support for that activity in stroke networks?
A lot of good work is being done. AI is often used to analyse brain scans very quickly in a lot of these centres that the noble Lord mentions. One of the very good things about trusts is that they have a lot of independence to develop their own initiatives, but sometimes the challenge—which I have really taken up—is getting that innovation adopted widely. I and the Secretary of State are great believers in that but, candidly, we need to work harder on it.
My Lords, I invite the Minister to visit A&E departments and note the chronic lack of resources and capacity. I will give a personal example. I took my son to the local A&E as he had some life-threatening issues. We arrived at 12.13 pm on a Wednesday and a bed was found at 2.30 am the next morning; no spare bed could be found in any of the adjacent hospitals at all. When was the last time the Minister visited an A&E department and what did he notice?
In the last few weeks, I have been in A&E departments most weeks. Over the Recess, I will be visiting another 15 or so hospitals—I cannot remember the exact number, but it is a big one. That will be to see the A&E and the new hospital programme that I am responsible for. I agree with the noble Lord that there is nothing like visiting a place to really understand the problems and get on top of them.