A report published by the British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) says that there is a 'worrying' shortfall of stroke specialists and the number needs to increase by a third to meet patient demands.

The new analysis shows an additional 226 full-time stroke consultants (an increase of 33%) are required to meet the current needs of patients in the UK

The growing deficit risks leaving UK stroke services unable to keep pace with advances in stroke care. Immediate access to procedures such as intravenous thrombolysis and mechanical thrombectomy, which dissolve clots and restore blood flow to the brain, can significantly decrease the risk of long-term disability and save millions of pounds in long term health and social care costs. However, without the right provision of specialists, patients may not have swift access to the best available treatments.   

Stroke is the fourth biggest killer in the in the UK, and the largest cause of complex disability. In addition, the cost of stroke to society is around £26 billion a year including lost productivity, disability and informal care.

To help ensure the necessary levels of stroke staff, BASP is calling for:

  • Comprehensive stroke medicine training within the teaching curriculum of parent specialities – including acute medicine, geriatric medicine, neurology and rehabilitation medicine
  • Increased promotion of stroke medicine at undergraduate level, including increased exposure of medical students to acute stroke patients, to encourage more people into the profession
  • An increase in the proportion of time that can be committed to stroke medicine, as part of stroke consultants’ job plans (known as Direct Clinical Care programmed activities)

Professor Tom Robinson, President of the British Association of Stroke Physicians, said: “Stroke can be devastating for patients and their families, but the sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen. With more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, we must urgently address the deficit in stroke staff to ensure that everyone has access to specialist care as quickly as possible.

“Great advances have been made in the treatment available to patients, but to offer these treatments to as many patients as possible, we need more doctors to be trained in stroke medicine, and to encourage increased take-up of this vital specialism among medical students.

“Improving stroke care and modernising the stroke workforce is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan, and we look forward to working with NHS England and others to help give everyone affected by stroke the best possible care.”

Four in 10 hospitals have an unfilled consultant post

Previous data shows that four in 10 hospitals providing stroke care have an unfilled consultant post. To develop new workforce estimates to meet the needs of the current population, BASP’s calculations are based on the number of consultant sessions (known as Direct Clinical Care programmed activities) required for each UK stroke unit.

BASP’s findings show that a hospital admitting 600 stroke patients per year will require 40 Direct Clinical Care programmed activities, and a hospital admitting 1,200 stroke patients will require 67. Each programmed activity worked is usually a period of up to four hours. From this, the report shows that 226 full time stroke consultants are required.

Dominic Brand, Director of External Affairs at the Stroke Association, added: “Every person who has had a stroke should be cared for by people with the right skills, knowledge and expertise to help them recover and rebuild their lives. We know that patients who are cared for on a stroke unit by a team of specialist doctors, nurses and therapists are more likely to be treated effectively, and have more positive outcomes.

“Stroke is an enormously expensive condition with devastating consequences. We need a stroke workforce of sufficient numbers and skills to ensure that every stroke patient and survivor, regardless of where they live, has the best possible treatment, care and support. Alongside BASP, we are calling on health leaders across the UK to address the challenges of recruiting, training and retaining all types of health and care workers able to treat people affected by stroke.’’