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Stroke Treatment

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 27 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve treatment and care for those of working age who are affected by stroke.

The Government are taking three major steps to improve treatment and care for strokes: first, a whole series of prevention measures to help avoid a person having a stroke in the first place; secondly, an updated and evidence-based stroke care pathway using AI, the latest technology in stroke rehabilitation, to maximise the chances of recovery; and, thirdly, post-stroke rehabilitation care and support to maximise the chances of recovery.

I thank the Minister. We know that one in four strokes happen to working-age people, and that it is also a leading cause of disability. Speech and physiotherapy support after stroke is therefore vital, because it helps recover key skills such as motor functions and cognitive ability, and it can be the difference between returning to work and not returning, or giving up altogether. With serious delays across the country in getting people to hospital and scanned, and in providing the speech and physiotherapy that is needed, and with chronic staff shortages across the country in hospital and community settings, good care is just not the reality for thousands of stroke sufferers. Some 40,000 people missed out last year on essential six-month, post-stroke reviews. When will the up and coming major conditions strategy be published? How will it specifically support effective stroke rehabilitation and recovery, and what timescales will be set for that?

I thank the noble Baroness for her tireless work in this area. As she quite rightly points out, aftercare and rehabilitation is the vital third leg of the three-step process I spoke about. In the major conditions strategy we talk about how we are basing it on a national model for an integrated stroke care service, based around personalised, wraparound care, for as long as is needed, with reviews every six months. I have seen some fantastic examples when I have been out and about, such as in Royal Berkshire and Leighton. The proof of the pudding is in the results; we have seen the number of people who are achieving a full recovery increase from 16% to 48%. That is the target we are going after.

My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my registered interests. The Minister mentioned the importance of prevention, which of course is not only primary but secondary prevention. In that regard, for both patients with atrial fibrillation at risk of a stroke and those who have had a stroke, it is vitally important that appropriate therapies, innovations in therapeutic intervention, and broader cardiovascular risk management are provided. Is the Minister content that we have a strategy that provides those opportunities, both for primary and secondary prevention of stroke?

The noble Lord is quite right. Many noble Lords will have heard me echo Sir Chris Whitty’s words that his major concern about the whole Covid period was that people missed out on blood pressure and cardiovascular checks, which can be early-warning indicators. That is why we see prevention as a major leg of what we are trying to do, through having blood pressure checks and inviting everyone to have their health check every five years. What we are working on, and will be bringing out shortly, is greater use of digital for health checks, to do precisely what the noble Lord says.

My noble friend wrote to me in response to an Oral Question on the subject of strokes to explain how AI is enabling many hospitals now to be able to diagnose within the three-hour timeframe and give appropriate treatment, thus enhancing the recovery of stroke patients. I mentioned it to my local general hospital, and I am sorry to tell him that it does not have this AI technology. When does he think it will be rolled out nationally?

This AI service, Brainomix, is one of the ground-breaking services that are part of the future of the NHS. It is part of the whole service, which will include video triaging. It is currently in 65% of hospitals, and I am sorry that it is not in my noble friend’s hospital. We have a target to increase that quite rapidly to 75%. I will look into the particular hospital that she mentions. It really is ground-breaking; overall, where we have got everything in place, full recovery has gone from 16% to 48%.

My Lords, to follow up on the issue of screening, atrial fibrillation is a well-known risk factor for stroke, but fortunately can now be checked for with some very cheap devices that connect to smartphones. What progress is being made on AF checks as part of screening programmes and routinely when high blood pressure is checked for? Can the Minister look particularly at the invites for the screening programme? I received one saying that I should come in for an AF check, not a stroke risk check or a cardiac risk check; they could be made much more user-friendly.

The noble Lord is right to point that out, and I hope we are correcting it. I have seen the mobile app and digital being used to do all these things—I have even seen applications which can measure your blood pressure and pulse as you look at it. We need to check some of the accuracy around that, but it is all part of the programme. However, we need to make sure that it is in everyday English.

My Lords, many family carers who provide care for stroke patients are also of working age. If they have to give up paid employment, it results often in the kind of debt that is currently in the news as a result of having to pay for care. What help can be given to those carers? I acknowledge that the Carer’s Leave Act was a welcome step forward, but that is only unpaid leave. What else can the Government provide for carers in these circumstances?

The noble Baroness is right: carers are the hidden army who give so much support, not just in the area of strokes but across the board. As the noble Baroness said, we have put in place some steps, such as enabling leave and enabling people to claim benefits. I accept that that is not the whole enchilada, so to speak, but it is a step along the way.

My Lords, I had a major stroke a year ago, and I am actually fine. I want to applaud the NHS. It has been truly remarkable, providing a machine beside my bed to monitor my heart every night. I also have atrial fibrillation. The NHS has monitored me incredibly carefully, with endless contact and the monitoring of my medication to ensure that it is exactly right—the GP was on to me this morning. The NHS has been completely wonderful, and it is worth saying that, as a patient.

I am delighted to hear those good examples. As I say, we have had some very good results. The challenge is to ensure that everyone can have the sort of experience that the noble Baroness has had, which we are keen to do.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it might be worth looking further into post-stroke care, following what the noble Lord on the Cross Benches said? I have visited hospitals in France, where post-stroke patients, be they of working age or non-working age, are encouraged to get back to work and be fit for work. Sadly, in my own local hospital I have seen academics of working age discharged without provision for the speech therapy or physiotherapy which would allow them to continue working. This is something that we could learn from our French friends.

That is what these SQuIRe centres are about—trying to roll out best practice. As I mentioned, I have seen fantastic examples, including simple things such as at Leighton Hospital, which gets every patient, not just stroke patients, to exercise for a couple of hours each day. That makes a difference to their length of stay and their ability to go back into the community and into the workplace.

My Lords, to follow on from the encouraging intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the Minister will know that, in 2010, London centralised hyperacute services into a small number of expert units. What progress are we making throughout the rest of the country, because in some parts it has been disappointingly slow?

The stroke quality improvement for rehabilitation—SQuIRe—services are where we are trying to take best practice from London, France and around the world and roll it out. The good news is that we have the model; it is based on a national model for an integrated community stroke service. We have got that in 65% of locations, with the goal of making it 75%.

My Lords, as there are 40 million people at risk of stroke because they are obese or overweight, would it be a good idea for the Government to recommend, as I have done for some time, that people have one fewer meal a day? That would reduce their weight and their expenditure.

My noble friend is correct that weight and obesity is a major factor in all sorts of conditions, including strokes. Encouraging people to eat correctly, in a healthy manner, is absolutely the right way to go.

As this is the last time that I will see your Lordships, I wish all noble Lords a happy Easter. I for one am looking forward to the break.