Stroke victims are campaigning for a life-saving treatment to be available to anyone who needs it.
A 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.
It has been described as a “game-changing” procedure, instantly cutting the chance of disabilities like paralysis, visual impairment and communication difficulties - and even saving lives.
But a new report by the Stroke Association warns of a “postcode lottery” for the treatment, with only a quarter (25%) of thrombectomy centres currently operating 24/7 services.
It warns that nearly 80% of patients who needed a thrombectomy in England missed out in 2020/21 - and that if the treatment rate stays at these levels, 47,112 stroke patients in England would miss out on the acute stroke treatment over the next seven years.
But what difference does the procedure make to those who receive it? And how have those who couldn’t have it been affected?
‘The procedure saved my life’
Jordan Wood, 26, from Stoke on Trent, had a stroke aged just 24, and said a thrombectomy saved his life.
After the procedure, Jordan was able to move his left side again and his speech had also returned. Alongside this, doctors had told him that it would take up to a month to be able to walk properly again, but it actually returned on the same day.
Jordan said: “As soon as I came out of the operation, I knew it had been a success. I was able to talk and move my left side again. They did inform me that it may take up to 30 days for me to be walking again. However, within hours of them saying this I was walking up and down the ward and had seemed to make a remarkable recovery.”
Jordan now wants to help raise awareness of just how vital the procedure is.
He added: “Without the thrombectomy I am convinced that I would’ve never regained the use of my left side again, which would have left me confined to a wheelchair. I just remember thinking how can I leave my three year old son without an active dad.
“The procedure saved my life and I think it’s disgraceful that anyone who suffers a stroke like me is not being offered it. I think anyone who suffers such a horrendous thing should be offered the thrombectomy and it needs to be available to all hospitals in the UK.”
‘Frustrated and shocked’
Paul Smith, 43, from Liverpool, suffered a stroke in April 2018, but was told no one was available to perform a thrombectomy as it was Easter Sunday and therefore a bank holiday.
His wife, Jane, said: “We were told that the next 48 hours were critical for Paul. I kept asking what do we do next, but I really wasn’t hearing what they were saying. We were completely in the time frame for a thrombectomy but no one was available to do it – I was massively frustrated and shocked.”
Paul then spent over three weeks in hospital having physio and speech and language therapy, which would continue for six months, while he was also fed blended foods and had to use thickeners for his drinks due to issues with swallowing.
Similarly, Phil Woodford, 51, was told that the thrombectomy procedure wasn’t available at the weekend back in 2016.
Phil, who had been out cycling, was relaxing in the garden when he started to lose his speech and couldn’t see from his left eye.
After attending hospital, doctors discovered Phil had had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) - a mini stroke - and went on to have a major stroke caused by a blood clot while in hospital.
He went on to spend four months in hospital and two months in a wheelchair after discharge, as he lost the use of his left side.
‘I was angry that I had my hopes dashed’
Phil said: “I’d lost the ability to talk, so I couldn’t shout out for help. When I was at home, my girls were giggling as water was coming out of the left side of my mouth – they thought I was just messing around.”
Although scans had revealed that Phil was a candidate for a thrombectomy, he was told that the procedure was only available Monday to Friday, not on the weekend.
Phil said: “I was selfish and had my stroke at the weekend. I was angry that I had had my hopes dashed and the treatment was only available during the week, 9-5. The staff were all good people but they had only been asked to provide the service during those days and times.
“It was a question of money and resources. There’s no way of telling that I would have had a better outcome with the thrombectomy but statistics show you that yes I would have had a better quality of life with it and so would those around me.”
Phil is now working with the Stroke Association and with the local Integrated Stroke Delivery Network to raise awareness of the lived experience of stroke, and to make sure thrombectomy and other life changing treatments are more widely available.
He said: “Improving stroke care and access to the best treatments won’t benefit me now but will benefit the people of tomorrow – it’s to the wider society. I chair a patients and carers group to make sure that stroke survivors and those close to them get their voices heard.
“I want to make sure that things like thrombectomy are always on the agenda. This isn’t a service needs that needs trialling - it’s well proven, it’s well researched and evidenced.”
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.
The charity 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.
A government spokesperson told NationalWorld: “We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019.
“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs. This is backed by record £39 billion funding which will put services on a sustainable footing.
“We are grateful for healthcare staff across the country who continue to improve stroke prevention and treatment services – including access to thrombectomy – as part of the ambitious NHS Long Term Plan.”