Investment in a new stroke unit at Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals NHS Trust has paid dividiends with the latest survey of stroke care showing the Trust has improved from an ‘amber’ or average to ‘green’ or good rating. Dr Bhaskar Mandal, Consultant in Care of the Elderly, said: “We had already made improvements to stroke services at Ashford and St. Peter’s before the new unit opened in April. These results indicate that we are in the top 25 per cent of hospitals providing quality stroke care.”

The Acute Stroke and Brain Injury Unit which cost £325,000 to develop serves over 400,000 people who live in the Trust catchment areas in Hounslow, Elmbridge, Runnymede, Spelthorne, Surrey Heath, and Woking was formally opened in April 2008 by Archers actress Carole Boyd (aka Linda Snell). The new Unit has 24 beds and is based on Cedar Ward at St. Peter’s Hospital which had to be closed whilst the unit was completely refurbished and specialist monitoring equipment installed. Nearby is a specialist therapy gym with equipment designed to support the rehabilitation of stroke patients and staffed by specialist nurses. The Friends of St. Peter’s contributed money towards the equipment. In 2007 Ashford and St. Peter’s saw over 400 stroke patients who came in through its emergency services.

Dr Mandal continued: “Someone has a stroke every five minutes in the UK and strokes are the third most common cause of death, after cancer and heart disease. A stroke is more common among people over the age of 65, but can happen at any age. Strokes are the leading cause of disability in the UK. That is why the development of this new 24 bed £325,000 unit was so important. Many studies have shown that making sure that patients who have strokes get the specialist treatment now available in this new unit ensures that patients make a fuller and faster recovery. We can now make sure that patients from west Surrey and Middlesex get the best possible treatment at their local hospital. We expect to do even better in 2009 audit when the results or our thrombolysis service, introduced in May 2008 are included.”

A stroke is what happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Without a blood supply, brain cells can be damaged or destroyed and won’t be able to do their job. Because the brain controls everything the body does, damage to the brain will affect body functions. For example, limb movement or speech may be affected. Strokes are generally caused by either a blood clot or bleeding in the head.

In the case of a clot, it is possible to treat the condition with a clot dissolving (thrombolysing) drug, but this is only effective if the drugs are administered within three hours of the stroke. This three hour window makes time a critical factor in the successful treatment of cases of stroke. Correct diagnosis is essential; however, administering a clot dissolving drug to a patient whose stroke was caused by bleeding would be fatal. Stroke services form an important part of the National Service Framework (NSF) for Older People. Providing rapid access to specialist stroke services and then into specialist rehabilitation saves lives and reduces disabilities.

Many people still don’t know that strokes are largely preventable. More than three times as many women died of stroke than of breast cancer in England and Wales in 2002. But, when asked what the top causes of death were, 40% more women mentioned breast cancer than mentioned stroke. Further information about Stroke can be found on the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/.

Information can also be found at BBC Health at www.bbc.co.uk/health/conditions/stroke1.shtml; NHS Direct atwww.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/articles/ and The Stroke Association at www.stroke.org.uk.