Life-changing treatment… stent pulls out the blood clot behind a stroke (Image: Getty)
One in four strokes in the UK hit working-age people, with a third of them unable to return to their careers afterwards – and 400 children a year suffer one.
A treatment is available that could help one in 10 of them but getting access is a postcode lottery, with no service in some areas and restricted hours in others.
Today the Daily Express and the Stroke Association are launching a campaign for UK-wide access to 24/7 thrombectomy procedures and better aftercare and rehabilitation for all patients.
A thrombectomy – where a stent passed up an artery or vein pulls out the blood clot causing the stroke – was described as a
“miracle” procedure when it was discovered two decades ago.
It vastly reduces disability and can cut hospital stays by months, with some patients even able to go home the next day.
But while it is thought up to 10% of UK stroke patients may be eligible for one – over 9,000 every year – only 3.3% can access one.
Treating all those eligible could save the NHS £73million a year, the Stroke Association estimates.
Since the procedure became available as an emergency stroke treatment in 2017, around 3,000 are carried out each year – but this is still not near enough. Some parts of England have no service at all, while others have only weekday and working-hour coverage.
The Stroke Association says more investment is needed for 24/7 clinics fully manned with trained staff able to skilfully and speedily administer the procedure.
The charity’s chief Juliet Bouverie said: “We are incredibly grateful to have the support and backing from the Daily Express.
Screen shows blood flow return to the cerebral arteries (Image: Getty)
“They are helping us make stroke the priority it needs to be and highlighting how far we still have to go to give everyone in the UK access to the best prevention, treatment and support.”
Tory MP Sir Bob Neill, whose wife Ann-Louise has survived a stroke, backs our fight for better care. He said: “No one should be beyond access to proper rehabilitation, which can mean people thriving, not just surviving. The ambition is to make sure everyone with stroke is able to access a key worker, a six-month review and support.”
More than 100,000 strokes happen each year in the UK and there are 1.3 million survivors.
But an increasing number surviving the condition, combined with an ageing population, means that number is expected to rise to more than two million by 2035.
The estimated overall cost of strokes is set to rise from £26billion in 2015 to £75billion in 2035 – a 194% increase over 20 years.
Experience the Express like never before Advert-free experience without interruptions. Rocket-fast speedy loading pages. Exclusive & Unlimited access to all our content. Almost two-thirds of survivors say they live with depression or anxiety, but only 37% received a six-month health and wellbeing review.
Stroke Association executive director Alexis Kolodziej said: “We know the value that life-after-stroke support plays in rebuilding lives. We provide support that covers every aspect of recovery so you are not just living to survive, but able to live life again.” Dr Deb Lowe, NHS England’s clinical director for stroke, said hitting thrombectomy targets is a priority. She added: “The NHS remains on track to achieving a 10-fold increase in delivering this for eligible patients.
“We are also prioritising delivery of specialist stroke rehabilitation at home and in care homes, as well as improving support and six-month follow-up reviews.”
The Department of Health said: “NHS England remains committed to reaching 10% of all patients eligible to receive thrombectomy by the end of 2025/26. We published the first-ever Long-Term Workforce Plan, which recognised the need to shift more care into the community and invest more in prevention and early intervention, as well as rehabilitation and reablement.”
For more details or to donate, visit stroke.org.uk or call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100. Comment by Juliet Bouverie – OBE Chief Executive of the Stroke Association Thrombectomy is a game-changing acute treatment for stroke that can transform recoveries in an instant, significantly reducing the chances of disability such as paralysis.
So why, despite the clear benefits, are nearly two-thirds of patients still missing out on thrombectomy?
With mechanical thrombectomy, clots blocking the supply of blood to the brain are physically removed.
The treatment is so effective that patients could be walking out of hospital the next day. And rightly so. It has been described as one of the most innovative treatments ever developed.
While rates are increasing slowly in England, with 3.3% of all stroke patients getting a thrombectomy (up from 2.8% in 2022), this still falls way short of the NHS Long Term Plan target of 10% and is totally unacceptable.
Stroke and thrombectomy teams across the country are working relentlessly to make it available but there is still a shocking and unwarranted postcode lottery with significant regional variations in access.
In some areas there’s still no thrombectomy service available at the weekend or outside of the working day. Sadly, without improvements, over 44,000 eligible people will unfortunately miss out on this treatment by 2029/30.
Round-the-clock access to thrombectomy could save the health and care system an estimated £73million each year – as it can make the difference between stroke survivors spending months in rehabilitation or living a life free from disability.
Thrombectomy must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for everyone who needs it. It should not be “subject to availability”. Thrombectomy saves brains, saves money and changes lives.
There are persistent barriers to 24/7 access, which include a lack of staff, regional buy-in and access to capital funding.
We need political leadership on stroke and commitment by local NHS leaders in England, to help improve stroke outcomes and faster rollout of the use of thrombectomy as treatment.
National and local system leaders have a core responsibility to prioritise and address the unacceptable inequalities in outcomes and thrombectomy access.
■ What is a thrombectomy?
A thrombectomy is a medical procedure used to treat some cases of ischaemic stroke, caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to part of the brain and around 85 per cent of strokes.
Thrombectomies can remove a blood clot but must be carried out within the first six hours of a stroke starting to be most effective.
■ How does it work?
It involves using a specially designed clot removal device inserted through a catheter to pull or suck out the clot, to restore blood flow. The device can remove clots too big to be broken down by clot-busting drugs or thrombolysis.
■ Who is eligible for thrombectomy?
Due to types, size and time it is thought up to 10% of stroke patients may be eligible for a thrombectomy every year. That is more than 9,000 people across the UK. For those people, it is a powerful intervention.
■ How long does a thrombectomy take?
The procedure can take around one to three hours.
■ Are there any risks?
As with any medical procedure, there are risks associated with thrombectomy which a doctor should explain to those affected before it is carried out.
However, studies have also shown that, on average, thrombectomy does not cause any greater risk of death, bleeding or secondary stroke, compared with other types of stroke treatment.
‘Removing the clots was so surreal’
Karen Craven (Image: )
Karen Craven was saved by a thrombectomy after collapsing from a stroke while getting ready for work. The 58-year-old primary teacher, left, was found in agony by her son without use of her left arm, leg and eye.
He recognised the signs of stroke and called 999 immediately. A scan in hospital revealed two blood clots in her brain which were suitable for a thrombectomy.
Karen, of Nottingham, said: “I remember the surgeon telling me that he would insert a wire through my groin, and up to my brain, where he would be able to grab the clots and pull them out. I was awake and it was all very surreal.
“Removing the clot hurt a little but 100% blood flow was restored within minutes. By the time I came back to the ward I could already move my arm and my leg like normal, and my sight was restored.”
Four days later she walked out of her city’s stroke unit and four weeks later was back at work. Now the married mum is helping raise awareness of the need to have greater access to thrombectomies.
She said: “I’m so grateful for the incredible procedure I was able to have. Since my stroke, I’ve volunteered for the Stroke Association because I think it’s important to give back. I’m also more active than I was before and have joined two walking groups. I love being out in the countryside.”
‘Anyone of any age can be affected: I was at 23’
Actor Grant Kilburn (Image: )
Actor Grant Kilburn, 32, is now thriving in a West End show, but in 2014 aged 23 he was left battling depression and anxiety after suffering a debilitating stroke.
Fresh out of Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, he was fit and healthy and ready to launch his stage career. But while out food shopping with his brother, completely out of nowhere, he suffered a catastrophic stroke.
Grant from Plumstead, South East London said: “As I got out of my brother’s car, my legs buckled – it felt as though I had walked into a brick wall.
“I went to talk but nothing was coming out. I knew the words I needed to say but to get them to come out of my mouth was so hard.”
He managed to say he was OK but said it was “disjointed and confusing”. As his brother drove him home, he asked who he was, explaining it was like his memory was “wiped”.
At home, his mother called for an ambulance and Grant spent five days in Darent Valley Hospital recovering. “I remember thinking I was going to die,” he said.
Grant was treated for hypothermia, and a CT scan revealed he had an Ischaemic stroke. The scan had showed two large clots lodged in the cerebellum part of his brain.
He added: “For years I was emotionally unstable. It took over my life, especially the panic attacks.”
Any time he got a head rush, Grant feared it was a stroke. He said: “It’s been a long journey but the carefree Grant is back!” Now starring in award-winning West End thriller 2:22 A Ghost Story, Grant says he is determined to speak out about his traumatic experience to raise awareness.
Grant said: “I want people to understand that strokes can happen to anyone, at any age.”