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Pandemic left stroke survivors with avoidable disabilities - report

Thursday September 17th 2020

Tens of thousands of stroke survivors have been left with avoidable, unnecessary disability – and exacerbated mental health problems – because of delayed emergency calls and cancelled therapies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report published today.

The Stroke Association calls for urgent action to stem increasing demand on the NHS and UK health services, warning it could take years to solve if left unchecked.

The report, Stroke recoveries at risk, the charity’s first into the effects of COVID-19 on stroke survivors, says all community rehabilitation, such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, should meet national clinical guideline levels to ensure all stroke survivors can access the necessary support.

It also calls for stroke teams to follow up with anyone who has survived a stroke this year to make sure they have received – or are receiving – the support they need to help them recover; and it says health and care systems to prioritise increasing the provision of and access to mental health services. The report also calls on the Government and local authorities to provide adequate support to carers.

The Stroke Association estimates that there are more than 35,000 stroke survivors who had a stroke during the pandemic and who require more support.

Although NHS stroke services remained open throughout, the charity’s report, which is based on the experiences of 2,000 stroke survivors and carers, shows that care is close to crisis point.

The Stroke Association’s Lived Experience of Stroke report, which was published in October 2019, already warned that the level of care, rehabilitation and mental health support available was inadequate and now the charity warns that when health and care systems begin returning services to normal, therapy waiting lists will be swamped with a backlog of thousands of stroke survivors.

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association said: “Despite the tireless efforts of frontline clinicians who have gone to herculean efforts to maintain services under extremely difficult conditions, some treatments still became unavailable and most stroke aftercare ground to a halt. This means more stroke survivors are now living with avoidable, unnecessary disability.”

The main findings of the report reveal that 39% of people who survived a stroke this year say they have not received enough rehabilitation, including physiotherapy. Their experience is backed up by 33% of stroke doctors, who reported reduced quality and quantity of rehabilitation on their ward.

The report also shows that 53% of stroke survivors have had therapy appointments or home care visits cancelled or postponed, while 68% said they have felt more anxious and depressed. Meanwhile, 56% of carers said they feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

Juliet Bouverie added: “We need a big push to get rehabilitation, mental health services and carer support back on their feet. This generation of stroke survivors can rebuild their lives, but only if governments and health services act quickly and with genuine commitment. Neither current levels nor pre-pandemic levels of support were good enough. Without a change, there is going to be a stroke care crisis that will put massive pressure on the health and care services.”

Professor Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, president of the British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) and professor of clinical neurology at the University of Edinburgh, added: “People who survived strokes that occurred during COVID-19 could benefit if the recommendations of the Stroke recoveries at risk report are implemented. The lessons that we have learned must inform how stroke services respond if a second surge of COVID-19 occurs.”

The report and executive summary can be found at: www.stroke.org.uk/covid-report

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Elderly Health | Mental Health | NHS | UK News

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