More than 47,000 stroke patients are to miss out on miracle treatment over the next seven years, a charity has said.
A new report by the Stroke Association has warned that if the thrombectomy rate stays at 2020/21 levels, 47,112 stroke patients in England would miss out on the acute stroke treatment, known as a mechanical thrombectomy.
Mechanical thrombectomy involves a stent being used to manually remove large stroke-causing blood clots from the brain via a catheter inserted into the patient’s groin.
The procedure vastly reduces disability and has been known to reduce hospital stay by a large number of months, with some patients being able to leave the next day instead of spending months in in-patient rehab.
This year, NHS England missed its original target to make mechanical thrombectomy available to all patients for whom it would benefit and only delivered the procedure to 28% of all suitable patients by December 2021.
The Stroke Association’s ‘Saving Brains’ report now calls for a 24/7 thrombectomy service, which it said could cost up to £400 million, but that treating all suitable strokes with thrombectomy would save the NHS £73 million per year.
Despite stroke striking at any time and urgent treatment being critical, only a quarter (25%) of thrombectomy centres operate 24/7 services.
Almost half (42%) only operate Monday to Friday, during office hours.
‘Thrombectomy saves brains, saves money and changes lives’
The Stroke Association is now calling for the Treasury to provide urgent funding for thrombectomy in the Autumn Budget 2022, to be used for infrastructure, equipment, workforce training and support, targeting both thrombectomy centres and referring stroke units.
Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association said: “Thrombectomy is a miracle treatment that pulls patients back from near-death and alleviates the worst effects of stroke.
“It’s shocking that so many patients are missing out and being saddled with unnecessary disability. Plus, the lack of understanding from government, the NHS and local health leaders about the brain saving potential thrombectomy is putting lives at risk.”
Ms Bouverie added: “It really is simple. Thrombectomy saves brains, saves money and changes lives; now is the time for real action, so that nobody has to live with avoidable disability ever again.
“Rates are rising gradually due to sustained efforts from national and local stroke teams, but progress is far slower than it needs to be. Tens of thousands will miss out, if rates stay the same as in 2020/21. NHS England’s original target was missed by a long way and we need to see proper efforts being made to make sure we’re not in the same position in 2029.
“Global clinical trials have proven thrombectomy’s efficacy and cost effectiveness multiple times over, yet we haven’t seen any real change. This is incredibly short sighted. A small investment could save the NHS billions of pounds and that’s before we even start to think of the life-changing benefit to stroke patients.”
Professor Martin James, Consultant Stroke Physician at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital and a Clinical Trustee of the Stroke Association, said: “Thrombectomy really is a game-changing treatment, yet the number of people receiving the treatment in the UK remains much lower than elsewhere in Europe, and has been only slowly increasing over recent years. At this rate, it won’t be available to all those who could benefit for many years to come.
“We need to ensure that thrombectomy is available to people with stroke wherever and whenever they need it, and that will require a big investment in people and equipment for the NHS. That sort of investment is long overdue and is urgently needed, and will change many lives for the better and save money.”
A GP from Dorset, who had a thrombectomy after having a stroke, is backing the Stroke Association’s campaign to make it more widely available.
Dr John Stephens had known relatively little about thrombectomy, but having now
had one himself after his own stroke he’s convinced it should be available to everyone for
whom it’s suitable as part of gold standard stroke care.
He said: “Like most GPs, I knew of thrombectomy but I’ve never had a patient who had had one and I didn’t really know much about it. Now I know first-hand the importance of rapid access to both thrombolysis and thrombectomy.”
His wife Margo added: “We feel strongly that rapid access to gold standard acute care such as thrombectomy should be available to all patients for whom it would be suitable.
“We believe that his thrombectomy has played a large part in his recovery enabling him to
achieve all of his goals. John feels that life is now back to normal and he is able to do all of
the things that are important to him.”
The Stroke Association is also calling on the public to sign an open letter calling on the UK Government to act on the recommendations in the Saving Brains report, and make thrombectomy available as soon as possible, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for everyone who needs it.