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‘Act FAST’ – Do not be put off seeking help for stroke symptoms because of coronavirus

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a stroke, ‘act FAST’ and dial 999. Do not be put off seeking help because of coronavirus.

This is the message from cardiovascular service leaders, who are backing the NHS’s on-going ‘Help Us Help You Campaign’.

NHS staff have worked hard to ensure anyone who needs stroke care can safely get it, with services across the country being rearranged to reduce the risk of infection in hospital. This includes separating A&E services into Covid and non-Covid areas.

Even during the peak of the pandemic, the NHS was providing excellent care for people who had suffered a stroke, and across the South East services have got better thanks to the use of technology to speed up stroke response times.

However, senior clinicians are concerned that people are putting off getting help when they need it due to coronavirus worries.

Dr Nithya Nanda is a member of the Frimley Health and Care Integrated Care System’s cardiovascular sub-group and is the clinical lead for cardiology in East Berkshire.

He said: “I understand that some people may feel anxious in seeking medical support as result of coronavirus. However, it’s imperative that you seek help if you need it especially if it’s serious or an emergency.

“A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.  It often results in people being taken by ambulance to A&E for emergency treatment where time is of the essence

“The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.

“If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.”

The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word FAST:

  • Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
  • Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you're saying to them.
  • Time – it's time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

Dr Raj Thakkar, Clinical Lead at NHS England’s Strategic Clinical Network - Thames Valley and Hampshire, said: “GPs across the South East have adapted to new and agile ways of working since the outbreak of Covid-19 and are now able to offer a variety of consultation options including via text, phone and through video. We are actively in contact with patients who are at risk of stroke which include people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irregular heartbeat and diabetes”

“I have been encouraging patients to use home blood pressure machines to send their readings through to the practice. To date we have had 363 readings into my practice alone. We also want to hear from people who are suffering from breathlessness and palpitations as these can be early signs of being at risk of this life threatening health condition.

“GP practices and hospitals are now working in a way which means we can run life saving tests at the same time as protecting patients and our own staff from Covid-19 using protective equipment. The risk of ignoring the early signs of a stroke can make a difference between being able to make a full recovery or living with serious disability or even death.”

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.

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*A clinical reference group with the aim of reducing variation in cardiovascular outcomes for patients across the ICS which includes East Berkshire, Surrey Heath and North East Hampshire and Farnham.

Frimley Health and Care