National Stroke Strategy at risk due to funding

By Leanne Dempsey Stroke News   |   29th Oct 2023

The Irish Heart Foundation has warned today, World Stroke Day, Oct 29th, that more stroke patients will die and suffer severe disabilities if the plug is pulled on a pledge to fund vital stroke services.

The warning comes after the Health Service Executive (HSE) said there would be no funding this year to deliver the National Stroke Strategy, thereby restricting lifesaving services such as thrombectomy and increasing the risk stroke unit closures.

Speaking on World Stroke Day, Kathryn Walsh, Policy and Legislative Affairs Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation, said: “The irony is that a failure to roll out the Strategy will cost lives without saving the health service a red cent. The result will be more patients requiring nursing home care and longer stays in hospital.

“If we’ve learned anything from the improvements in stroke services of the last decade during which deaths have fallen by a quarter and direct discharge to long-term care by even more, it’s that it’s cheaper to invest in stroke services than to underfund them.”

“Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly himself said just last March that the Stroke Strategy ‘will provide significant improvements in service delivery, with improved patient flow and efficiency in the delivery of stroke services’. Now, just months later it has been de-funded.”

"It’s cheaper to invest in stroke services than to underfund them.”

Kathryn Walsh

Ms Walsh said that death and severe disability rates tend to be around 25% lower among stroke patients treated in stroke units. The national network of over 20 units was already under huge strain due to understaffing and closures were now likely.

In addition, lives would be lost due to restrictions on thrombectomy services, which is a procedure to remove a blood clot from a blocked artery in the brain.

Thrombectomy is the most effective treatment for stroke –  reducing the death rate by half and almost doubling the rate of recovery to complete independent living. Ireland is a world leader in this area, but all this progress could be lost without proper investment.”

Ms Walsh added that the number of strokes in Ireland was predicted to increase by 60% by 2035, but the health service isn’t meeting current need, let alone futureproofing services for an extra 4,000 strokes a year.

“This will have grave consequences. Stroke services will be overwhelmed, resulting in much larger numbers of stroke patients being treated in Emergency Departments, which will severely impact patients with all serious conditions.

“Meanwhile stroke survivors, who are already essentially abandoned at the hospital gates due to a dearth of HSE-provided post-discharge services and supports in vast swathes of the country, will be even worse off.

“Research has shown that on average, funding for community-based rehabilitation is enough for one to two physio sessions for stroke survivors who leave hospital with often profound physical, communication and psychological difficulties.

“And now more stroke survivors will be emerging from hospital with greater needs due to downgraded acute services.”


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