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Concerns raised for stroke victims ‘ignoring’ symptoms amid coronavirus crisis

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Concerns are mounting that people across the UK who are having a stroke are not calling 999 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With stroke striking every five minutes, the Stroke Association fears that thousands of people could be at risk of severe disability, or even stroke-related death, if they don’t seek urgent help.

Dr Deb Lowe, NHS National Clinical Director for Stroke and Consultant Stroke Physician at Wirral University Teaching Hospital, said her team is beginning to see some “strike reductions” in the number of people coming into hospital with the symptoms of a stroke.

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“It appears that people aren’t seeking emergency help or going to hospital when they suspect a stroke, possibly due to fear of the virus or not wanting to be a burden on the NHS,” she said.

“Given the emergency changes being made across the NHS, it’s possible that a patient’s treatment or journey might be a bit different while we put measures in place to deal with coronavirus safely.  But these are to keep patients and NHS workers safe and the most important thing to remember is to dial 999 if you suspect a stroke.” 

Latest figures from Public Health England showed attendance to Emergency Departments in England has dropped by over a third (34.5%) on the same week last year, from 136,669 to 89,584.

While figures for emergency admissions aren’t available yet, the charity and senior stroke professionals expect similar declines.

In 2019, there were almost 90,000 strokes in England alone, according to NHS Digital. Meanwhile, almost 21,000 patients were admitted to hospital with a TIA/mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack). The charity warns that any delay in getting help will jeopardise your ability to rebuild your life after stroke.

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association says: “The fear of contracting the virus or feeling like a burden on the NHS might be the main reasons putting people off seeking treatment. But I am reassured that the NHS is well equipped to treat both stroke and coronavirus.

“Equally concerning is people who experience mini-stroke and then dismiss it as ‘just a funny-turn’. A mini-stroke is a warning that major stroke is on its way, so you shouldn’t ignore the signs; and you need to seek help.”

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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