More nurses improve stroke survival rates

Increasing the number of trained nurses on the wards could 'significantly improve' survival for stroke patients, Scottish research suggests.

Scientists say the number of trained nurses available to treat patients immediately after a stroke is the most reliable predictor of survival. Photo by Jayne Wright.

A study led by Aberdeen University found that one extra specialist nurse per ten beds could reduce a patient’s chance of dying after 30 days by up to 28 per cent, and after a one year by up to 12 per cent.

Prompt care is vital for a recovery from a stroke, which is the third biggest killer and the leading cause of disability in Scotland.

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Stroke patients should get a bundle of care within 24 hours including a brain scan, a swallow screen to stop choking and aspirin to thin the blood to prevent another stroke from occurring.

Yet the latest Scottish Stroke Care Audit found only 64 per cent of patients received all the necessary care.

The researchers discovered that the ratio of trained nurses to patients was more important to survival rates than other factors, including the number of consultants, the type of hospital and the support offered to patients when they leave hospital.

Professor Phyo Myint, an expert in old age medicine from Aberdeen, said: “We might expect more obvious aspects of health care to have a greater impact on survival, such as having a team to support early hospital discharge, or the proportion of acute and rehab beds on the unit.

“Instead, we found that, when controlling for all other variables, an increasing nurse to patient ratio has a substantial effect on reducing likelihood of death after stroke.

“This proved to be a very clear and consistent predictor of stroke survival.

“Our figures show that there aren’t too many extra stroke nurses required to significantly improve survival.”

Using data from 2,300 hospital patients in East Anglia, the team analysed patient survival at seven days, 30 days and a year after a stroke had occurred.

Having the optimal number of trained nurses available to look after patients in an acute stroke unit was consistently the best predictor of survival from stroke, after factors such as age, stroke severity and blood pressure, according to the study published in Age and Ageing journal.

Amanda Cheesley, lead for long term conditions at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “This research echoes findings in other areas of health care where there is a clear link between the number of registered nurses and patient safety.

“Too often senior and specialist nursing posts have been cut to save money, but their expertise and experience has a measurable positive impact on patients.”