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If you suspect a stroke, ‘act FAST’ despite coronavirus

12:00am | & Health

Some people who experience symptoms of a stroke or a ‘mini-stroke’, or see them in a loved one, might be put off seeking urgent medical help because they fear catching the coronavirus.

That’s the worry of leading doctors who have noticed a significant drop-off in attendances at hospital A&E departments, including for suspected stroke. Their advice is never to ignore symptoms of what can be a killer condition, but instead to seek professional medical help without delay.

To encourage people to be fully aware of – and never to ignore – any symptoms of a stroke or TIA (a Transient Ischaemic Attack, often called a ‘mini-stroke’) – NHS bosses are refreshing their ‘act FAST’ awareness campaign. The F.A.S.T. (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 one side? Can they smile?
  • Arms – can they raise both arms and keep them there?
  • Speech – is their speech slurred?
  • Time to call 999

NHS staff have worked hard to ensure anyone who needs stroke care can safely get it despite coronavirus, the biggest public health emergency in over a century. Services across the country have been restructured to reduce the risk of patients being exposed to, or passing on infection in hospital.

Dr Deb Lowe, NHS national clinical director for stroke, said: “While NHS staff have rightly gone above and beyond 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 A&E for emergency treatment where time is of the essence. Survival rates for stroke in the NHS have been improving steadily over recent years, with the organisation of stroke care and the rollout of new treatments like mechanical thrombectomy – a type of minimally invasive surgery to remove blood clots from the brain.

One NHS Trust, in Berkshire, has pioneered new technology for the treatment of stroke patients during the coronavirus pandemic. It enables 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.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s absolutely vital that anyone experiencing symptoms of a stroke seeks urgent medical assistance, and the FAST campaign continues to save lives. The NHS has faced an unprecedented challenge during this pandemic and it’s hugely impressive to see Trusts continuing to improve patient care through innovation.”

• To watch a short film on the ‘act FAST’ awareness campaign, click here.

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