And ahead of statistics out today which are likely to show that emergency department attendances fell significantly in April, top doctors are urging people who may be having a stroke to come forward for care as soon as possible.
One trust has rapidly adopted an AI (Artificial Intelligence) tool to enable them to speed up decision making and treatment despite dealing with coronavirus.
AI solutions are being rolled out across the NHS to support clinical decision making on life-changing treatments including mechanical thrombectomy, a procedure which can prevent long-term disability and enable more people to be independent after their stroke.
The new AI tool allows doctors to view patient scans remotely on an app and make better and faster decisions on the right treatment options for their patients.
However, senior medics are concerned that people are putting off getting help when they need it due to coronavirus worries.
As part of the Help Us Help You campaign the NHS is therefore urging the public to continue to act fast and dial 999 when stroke strikes.
Services across the country have been restructured to reduce the risk of patients being exposed to, or passing on infection in hospital.
Plans were also set out to ensure people could continue to get care even if local ambulance and hospital teams were put under much more severe pressure than has been the case.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms of a stroke or another killer condition you should seek help as you always would – NHS staff have worked hard to ensure you can get it safely.
“The virus will be with us for some time and that means hospitals will be treating thousands of patients, but at the same time it is great to see cutting edge technologies like AI scans being brought in despite the coronavirus pandemic, to help speed up brain imaging and ensure quicker access to life saving treatment.”
Early results show the tool has significantly increased the proportion of patients who have received timely and potentially life-saving treatment.
Encouraging use of this technology was initially set out in the NHS’ Long Term Plan, published last year, as 1 of a series of measures designed to improve brain saving treatments, save thousands more lives and save more people from life-long disability.
Dr Deb Lowe, NHS national clinical director for stroke, said: “While NHS staff have rightly gone over and above to respond to the global coronavirus pandemic, providing safe, world-class treatment for killer conditions like stroke has always been a priority.
“Because of that incredible effort from all our doctors, nurses and therapy teams, the NHS has been able to provide care for everyone who has urgently needed it, but my fellow clinicians and I have been really worried that the number of people coming forward for stroke care at the right time has gone down.
“So if you or a loved one experience stroke symptoms, please help us help you, act fast, and call 999. Our expert paramedics, stroke nurses, radiologists and doctors will ensure you get the care you need as quickly as possible.”
Stroke is a life-threatening condition that often results in people being taken by ambulance to the emergency department for emergency treatment where time is of the essence.
The quality of care and survival rates for stroke in the NHS care has been improving over recent years, with the organisation of stroke care, and the roll out of new treatments like mechanical thrombectomy – a type of minimally invasive surgery to remove blood clots from the brain.
As the coronavirus pandemic set in, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust fast-tracked the use of an AI tool so they could make faster and better decisions about treatment for stroke patients.
The AI tool, allows hospital staff to share scans quickly with on call stroke physicians so they can advise the teams on the best course of treatment, without a delay that could impact on the patient’s outcomes.
The app uses AI to help read and interpret the scans, enabling doctors to make better and informed decisions about the right course of treatment for each patient.
Whilst attendance with stroke like symptoms at Royal Berkshire fell by a third during March and April, of those who did attend and were diagnosed with a stroke a higher proportion of patients than previously received life changing surgery – an increase of 43%.
Since the beginning of March Royal Berkshire has processed over 150 scans using the AI system, helping many patients get faster treatment.
Dr Kiruba Nagaratnam, consultant stroke physician and geriatrician, and clinical lead for stroke medicine at the RBH, said: “This work has revolutionised the way we traditionally reviewed scans and made treatment decisions when we are on call.
“It has also bypassed the ED physician and radiologist involvement, particularly on weekends. We have already used this to refer patients for life changing thrombectomy surgery on weekends with decisions made remotely.”
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive at the Stroke Association said: “It’s fantastic news that expert stroke teams are able to use the latest emerging technologies to treat stroke, but they need you to get to hospital as soon as possible to minimise the damage that stroke can bring. Don’t delay. If you spot the signs of a stroke, please act fast and call 999.
“I know that many people are worried about coronavirus but I’ve been reassured by the UK’s leading stroke doctors that their teams are ready to ensure that you get the right treatment. We’ve been working with the NHS to ensure that when you leave hospital, you get support despite the current restrictions so that no one is left feeling abandoned or isolated as you start to rebuild your life. If you or your loved ones are experiencing any of the signs of a stroke, the best thing for you and the NHS, is to call 999 and say you’re having a stroke.”
The fast (face, arms, speech, time) acronym is a simple test to help people identify the most common signs of a stroke, and emphasises the importance of acting quickly by calling 999
- Face: Has their face fallen on 1 side? Can they smile?
- Arms: Can they raise both arms and keep them there?
- Speech. Is their speech slurred?
- Time: Call 999.