NI Stroke Services Face Potential Overhaul

The Department of Health has proposed plans to reshape Northern Ireland's stroke services and establish Hyperacute Stroke Units that offer round the clock access to diagnosis and treatment.

Currently, services are spread across 11 hospital sites. The public consultation offers six potential new models of care, with networks ranging from three Hyperacute Stroke Units to five.

This would ensure that patients have access to the "best possible care in regional centres of excellence no matter where they live or what time they are admitted," according to the Department. It is also expected to lead to increased use of the clot busting Thrombolysis. The reforms will also support greater access to Thrombectomy, the groundbreaking procedure that removes a clot from the brain.

Thrombectomy is currently available at the Royal Victoria Hospital from Monday to Friday, over limited hours. The Hyperacute network model is essential to allow the expansion of Thrombectomy to a 24 hour, seven day a week service and to ensure that appropriate patients from across Northern Ireland can receive this life-changing treatment.

DoH Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said the shake up is an "exciting opportunity" that will change services for the better, protecting more people from the devastating consequences of a stroke.

"We can't secure these improvements without reshaping current provision," he continued.

"Our hospital stroke services are currently too thinly spread. Too many units are struggling to maintain sustainable quality care and staffing levels.
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"Establishing Hyperacute Stroke Units is vital to ensure we keep pace with advances in treatment and provide the best possible treatment. The principle of consolidating care is backed by stroke charities, expert research and the proven success of reforms introduced in London and Manchester."

The consultation will run for 12 weeks and also proposes extending the air ambulance service to coordinate with emergency road transport for patients with strokes and other conditions in remote rural areas.

The plans to reshape stroke treatment must facilitate the improvement of the current services on offer, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Pat Sheehan has said.

Encouraging people to engage with the consultation, he commented: "Whatever new configuration emerges from the consultation, the result has to be an improved service for all patients across all areas.

"Every year, almost 1,000 people here die from stroke and independent health reports have called for an improvement in the standards of care.

"Reconfiguring services is one way to do that but it must be carried out in a regionally balanced way, in partnership with those who use and deliver services, with the objective of improved health outcomes for patients at its heart.

"The Department of Health have now launched a consultation process on their proposals and I would encourage people to engage with that process to make their views known."

The consultation, which closes on Tuesday 18 June, can be accessed here.


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