Staffing shortages holding stroke care back

Scots miss out on key treatment as number of survivors living with disability set to rise by a third

Wednesday 17th July 2019

A ‘significant and growing’ shortage of specialist doctors is hampering attempts to build a modern stroke treatment service across the UK, according to an expert doctors’ group.

The British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) says staffing levels are not keeping pace with advances in stroke medicine, meaning the UK is falling behind other countries on key treatments.

Statistics released earlier this month show health boards in Scotland are routinely falling short of a set of stroke care standards linked to reduced mortality and speedy discharge home after a stroke.

Stroke is now the leading cause of long-term disability in the UK. Treatment developments have seen death rates halve over the last 20 years and the number of survivors living with a disability is projected to increase by a third by 2035.

New treatments such as mechanical thrombectomy, which can be used to remove blood clots in the brain that are not responding to drugs, are not yet available in Scotland.  

‘Important clinical developments have overtaken the specialist resource that is currently available to support them,’ the stroke medicine workforce report states.

‘As a result, patient access to new service developments such as mechanical thrombectomy is very limited and lags behind other countries.’

More full-time stroke consultants are required to keep up with technical developments, BASP says.

To provide a ‘comprehensive’ service across the UK, the group estimates 226 more full-time consultants are needed on top of the current 676.

It is calling for more action to attract trainee doctors into stroke medicine and increased promotion of stroke medicine among medical students.

Professor Derek Bell, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, says hospitals need to be properly funded and doctors should be given time to train and teach stroke treatments.

“As a College we support a comprehensive mechanical thrombectomy service across the UK – and indeed in Scotland, where no stroke centres are currently providing the treatment,” Prof Bell said.

“However, this will be most challenging if stroke centres are not properly staffed and resourced to deliver this key treatment, which can save lives and limit disability after a severe stroke.”