The government has pledged £105 million to help boost service provision and care outcomes for stroke, England’s third biggest killer, which claims around 50,000 lives a year.

The move falls under its new 10-year stroke strategy, which is comprised of various measures to accelerate the emergency response to stroke and help cut the number of related deaths each year, and will see the birth of new stroke networks across the nation to drive forward the planned improvements.

According to the Department of Health, its new strategy could prevent up to 6,800 deaths and cases of disability from every year, as well as around 1,600 strokes from taking place in the first place.

The urgent need for an overhaul of stroke services was underscored earlier this year by the publication of two articles in The Lancet in October, which demonstrated that prompt treatment of minor stroke with clot-busting drugs can massively cut the risk of subsequent and major stroke.

Each year in the UK, around 120,000 people have a first stroke - 30% of which die within a month - costing the National Health Service over £2.8 billion. But currently, less than 35% of providers in England manage to treat minor stroke within seven days.

Consequently, key goals set out in the plan are very much geared towards boosting emergency care for patients, including: much faster access to MRI scans for patients with minor strokes, which could help prevent as much as 80% from going on to experience a full-blown one; the immediate transfer of suspected stroke patients to a local specialist centre for assessment and therapy; ensuring that those stroke patients needing an urgent brain scan get the very next slot during the working day, and within an hour thereafter; and that people affected by stroke and their carers get immediate access to high-quality rehabilitation and support from stroke-skilled services in hospital.

Raising awareness
In addition, the cash invested in the strategy will help raise national awareness of stroke, provide training for stroke consultants, nurses and allied health professionals, and fund an extra 30 stroke specialist physician training posts in 2008/9, the DH said.

“There remains much to be done to bring stroke services in line with those for cancer and heart disease,” admitted Health Secretary Alan Johnson. “Now is the time to close that gap. We can and we must now give stroke the attention it deserves. Saving thousands of lives is a prize too great to ignore," he added.

The new battle plan has been welcomed by The Stroke Association. Its chief executive, Jon Barrick, said: “No longer will stroke be seen as an inevitable, untreatable consequence of old age”, and added that this is “a momentous opportunity to transform the outcomes and lives of stroke survivors in this country”.