Stroke success proves hotline was good call

A SPECIAL hotline set up by NHS Lothian has helped cut treatment time for stroke victims and proved so successful it could be rolled out across the country.

The hotline means a GP can get instant advice from a stroke specialist on a patient's symptoms.

The difference has been so great, patients who have mini-stokes or suffer stroke-like symptoms are now treated within three days, compared to almost a fortnight in 2007.

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That has reduced the chances of patients suffering potentially fatal follow-up strokes.

Health chiefs across Scotland have been so impressed by the 18-month pilot scheme they are considering rolling it out across the country.

The work has also been reported in the British Medical Journal, attracting the attention of health bosses across Europe.

Professor of stroke medicine for NHS Lothian Martin Dennis said: "The results speak for themselves. This hotline is a feasible and effective means of reducing delays to specialist assessment and treatment of patients with transient ischemic attack and stroke.

"Patients could have waited longer to see us in the past and that wait was critical because the risk of a major stroke is much higher in the first day or two after the first symptoms."

After a year-and-a-half of the hotline being in place, the statistics relating to stroke care began to shift significantly.

Prior to the scheme, patients who needed surgery to open up a blood vessel in the neck that was narrowed by a stroke had to wait nearly two months. The hotline project cut that wait to just 21 days.

Anyone who has a stroke has a ten per cent chance of suffering another one in the subsequent seven days, but quick treatment reduces this notably.

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Despite obesity and alcoholism - both closely linked with strokes - getting worse, the number of stroke deaths has fallen in the Lothians. 143 people died from strokes in the last three months in the area, and while that was a slight rise on last year, the long-term trend is downward.

With the stroke hotline, a GP can access an expert any time of the day. That specialist can give on-the-spot advice about diagnosis, investigation and emergency treatment. They could also demand tests.

Before, a GP may have missed some of the lesser-known symptoms, or had to refer a patient to hospital.

Prof Dennis added: "The live interaction involving the GP, consultant and patient allowed the patient's history to be clarified and if necessary the consultant could take the history directly from the patient to refine the diagnosis."

Stuart's fighting spirit set him on road back

A STROKE can take just minutes to ruin someone's life.

Stuart Hepburn was a fit, healthy and active 52-year-old when he noticed his legs had stopped working as he exercised at home.

That was almost six years ago, and now the former businessman, from Colinton, is confined to a wheelchair, is unable to speak and has spent two years in hospital.

However, thanks to work by NHS Lothian staff and the determination he shows in his gruelling rehabilitation, Mr Hepburn has regained a certain quality of life.

He has praise for the health board's physios, recalling that "everything they touched seemed to add quality".