Thousands of people could be at risk of severe disability, or even stroke-related death, if they don’t fast on stroke symptoms as figures show that attendance to emergency departments in England has dropped by over a third (34.5%) on the same week last year.

Latest figures from Public Health England show figures dropped from 136,669 to 89,584. Scotland also reported attendance to emergency departments has dropped by over a third (40.1%) on the same week last year. 

In 2019, there were almost 90,000 strokes in England alone. Meanwhile, almost 21,000 patients were admitted to hospital with a TIA/mini-stroke. 

Many stroke services have also adapted to the pandemic rapidly

The Stroke Association says that the fear of contracting coronavirus or feeling like a burden on the NHS might be the main reasons putting people off seeking treatment.  

Professor Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, President of the British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) and honorary consultant neurologist in Edinburgh said: “Strokes and mini-strokes are medical emergencies. The quicker many stroke treatments are given, the better. As we say, “time is brain.” So it’s important to recognise the signs of a mini-stroke or stroke and act immediately. In this phase of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, family and friends can do the FAST test on the phone or via video chat. 

"Many stroke services have also adapted to the pandemic rapidly: rather than calling patients with mini-stroke up to a hospital outpatient appointment, they are using phone or video chat to diagnose and recommend treatment for patients.”

In 2001, the Stroke Association funded research to help paramedics spot the signs of stroke using the Face Arm Speech Time (to call an ambulance) test. This research lay the foundations for one of the most successful public health awareness campaigns in the UK, the Act FAST campaign. Symptoms such as facial drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulties are the most common, (but not exclusive), signs of a stroke.

Dr David Hargroves, National Clinical Lead for the GIRFT NHSE/ I Stroke and Consultant Stroke Physician at East Kent University Hospitals added: “There may be many different ways in which the excellent stroke care we have in the UK will be delivered in the coming months.

"This may include different environments patients are cared for in, virtual assessments, therapy advice or interventions delivered by telephone or video link.  Members of the public should be reassured that these changes will help reduce the transmission of the virus, whilst continuing to provide the care that will save lives and reduce disability. It is so vitally important that they continue seek help when they first spot the symptoms or signs of a stroke.”

Signs of a stroke

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, including legs, hands or feet.
  • Difficulty finding words or speaking in clear sentences.
  • Sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden memory loss or confusion, and dizziness or a sudden fall.
  • A sudden, severe headache.