Around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke every year, according to the Stroke Association. Most people affected are over 65, but younger people can have a stroke. Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the UK and is also an important cause of disability, with more than 250,000 people left disabled following a stroke. The recent National Stroke Strategy for England set out a quality framework to improve stroke services. In this article, we review what we can do to help optimise outcomes for our patients who have a stroke.
Over my lifetime, treatment for heart disease has improved beyond recognition. For the last six years, I have had the privilege of leading a programme that has accelerated that change, reducing waiting times, bringing in new treatments, training more specialists, and ensuring patients have more and better choices available. I am now working to repeat those strides forward for stroke, the brain’s equivalent of heart attack. There are a similar number of strokes to heart attacks, but this equally devastating condition has been slower to catch the medical and public imagination in this country. With our ageing population, it represents a growing challenge for the future.
Tessa, age 68, rarely attends the surgery. She arrives on a Monday morning, however, saying that she had a ‘funny turn’ over the weekend. “I couldn’t think straight and my words came out all wrong. My arm was tingling like no-one’s business so I took to my bed to sleep it off. I still feel a bit queer this morning so Pete said I should pop down and get checked over.” What could be the problem with Tessa and what should you do?
In the fourth article in our series on the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) we will look at stroke and transient ischaemic attack (TIA). This is an area that has probably been ignored in many practices with regard to secondary prevention. It was not included in any of the previous NSFs and there had been no targets to encourage evidence-based treatment in Primary Care, up until the arrival of the QOF.
Stroke is common, affecting around one in four people over the age of 45 at some time in their lives. Increasing age is a major risk factor for stroke, so the numbers of people suffering a stroke will increase with the ageing population. Primary care teams have a central role in providing effective secondary prevention, but because patients often fall between primary and secondary care, things may be missed. Taking a systematic approach to assessing risk factors, such as blood pressure, and treating them effectively can significantly reduce further stroke risk.