Northern Ireland

Health charity says more people will die and suffer disability without reform of stroke services

Robin Swann said important progress on stroke services has been made, but he remains limited without proper funding

Stormont's All Party Group on Stroke met on Monday to call for reform of services.
Stormont's All Party Group on Stroke met on Monday to call for reform of services.

A leading health charity has said more people will die or suffer from disabilities without reform of stroke services in Northern Ireland.

Neil Johnston from NI Chest Heart and Stroke made the comments following a meeting of the Stormont All Party Group on Stroke on Monday.

“Delaying stroke reform means that people die who need not have died and many people end up having to live with much greater levels of disability than should have been the case,” he said.

“Improving stroke services has been under discussion for five years and it is long past time for getting on with change.”

Acknowledging the constant challenges facing the health service and the disruption of the pandemic, he said it was not about money, but to showing leadership.

He said small improvements, such as a thrombectomy service, had been “an outstanding example” of changes that had a huge impact for patients.

“We now need to make the big decisions on where our centres of excellence are going to be and put plans in place to ensure we can deliver them over time,” he said.

“Everyone knows that we cannot achieve everything overnight and that resources are stretched but what we are currently seeing is simply prevarication and delay.”

Minister of Health Robin Swann said a planned strike by junior doctors would affect thousands
Minister of Health Robin Swann has said progress on stroke services can only go so far without proper funding. (David Young/PA)

Health minister Robin Swann attended the meeting and said that while important progress had been made since the publication of an Action Plan in 2022, further progress would be limited without more funding.

Advances in technology, including five hospitals using Artificial Intelligence to assist with scans were highlighted along with a thrombolysis audit and a costed model to expand a thrombectomy service to 24/7.

“There remains much more to be done to fully deliver on the priorities set out in the Action Plan and I must be clear, however, that there are some priorities which cannot be progressed much further without additional funding,” he said.

“This includes the expansion of thrombectomy to a 24/7 service which we estimate requires additional funding of just over £5m.

“There is also a clear need for increased investment in rehabilitation and long-term support services for stroke survivors.

“Be assured that we will continue to make every effort to drive improvement by making best use of current resources, but unfortunately the absence of adequate funding will continue to impact the pace of implementation.”