Two articles published in The Lancet have highlighted how prompt treatment for minor stroke can massively cut the risk of subsequent and major stroke, underscoring the urgent need to for an overhaul of stroke services.

In one study, researchers from the University of Oxford found that early initiation of treatment following a minor stroke or transient-ischaemic attack (TIA) slashed patients’ risk of suffering a major stroke by 80% over the following 30 days.

And a separate study by researchers across the Channel, to be published in The Lancet Neurology, clearly demonstrates how immediate treatment for TIA’s at a specialist clinic in France reduced the recurrence risk of TIA’s by almost 80%, showing that “prompt evaluation and treatment of patients with TIA in a dedicated outpatient unit is associated with a lower than expected risk of subsequent stroke,” the authors claim.

Patients in the UK, however, often don’t receive treatment for minor strokes for weeks, and Oxford scientist Peter Rothwell claims that as many as 10,000 strokes could be prevented each year in Britain if anti-blood clot therapy was administered earlier.

“This research is of the utmost importance,” commented Joe Korner, Director of Communications at The Stroke Association. “It clearly shows that thousands of people could be saved from life shattering strokes every year, simply by making sure that everyone who has TIA or minor stroke gets currently available treatment quickly…This is not about a brand new technology, or a costly intervention. This is about organising our services so that TIA's or minor strokes are always treated, and treated urgently.”

NHS cost £2.8bn

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. Stroke is also the single most common cause of severe disability in the country, with more than 250,000 people currently living with disabilities as a result.

Inadequate stroke treatment is fast coming to the fore as an area of major concern, and the Department of Health is currently working on a new National Strategy to modernise service provision and deliver the newest treatments for stroke. By 2010, the government aims to reduce the death rate from stroke, coronary heart disease and related diseases in people under 75 by at least 40%.

“The consultation period for the National Stroke Strategy is drawing to a close. The Stroke Association believes that it is vital that its recommendations on TIA's and minor strokes are implemented as quickly as possible, everywhere in the country,” Korner said.

Earlier this month, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley singled out stroke care in his plans for the NHS as an area in dire need of attention.

He pointed to National Audit Office findings that, three years ago in Australia, 9% of stroke patients were given clot-busting drugs; the equivalent in Britain should be over 10,000 stroke patients but, last year, only 218 received such treatment. “We spend more on stroke care than other countries, but we still have worse outcomes. So we will reform stroke services and save lives,” he promised.