'Game changing' stroke treatment to benefit thousands

It is hoped mechanical thrombectomys will help 8,000 people per year. Credit: PA

Thousands of stroke patients in England will benefit from a "game-changing" treatment after plans to expand a revolutionary procedure were approved by NHS bosses.

An estimated 8,000 people per year who suffer a severe form of stroke where blood vessels in the brain become blocked, are set to benefit from mechanical thrombectomys when they are introduced to all 24 neuroscience centres across England.

The procedure sees a piece of wire mesh, known as a stent, inserted into a blood vessel, usually through the groin, before being fed through the circulatory system and into the brain.

Once at the site of a clot the stent is used to dislodge and remove the blockage, restoring blood flow.

Trials have shown that survival rates and quality of life are dramatically improved when a patient undergoes the procedure within six hours of symptoms beginning to show.

The complicated procedure, which is carried out by a highly-trained practitioner called an interventional neuro-radiologist, had previously only been available at a limited number of hospitals across the country.

The move has been welcomed by stroke charities who say it will boost survival rates and improve the standard of living for people recovering from strokes.

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive at the Stroke Association, said: "Thrombectomy is a real game changer which can save lives and reduce the chances of someone being severely disabled after a stroke.

"Stroke is the fourth biggest killer in the UK, and a leading cause of disability. Current treatment options are limited and do not always work.

"This decision by NHS England could give thousands of critically ill stroke patients an increased chance of making a better recovery.

"It could mean more stroke survivors living independently in their own homes, returning to work and taking control of their lives again as a result. And this will undoubtedly lower NHS and social care costs for stroke."

Strokes are estimated to cost the NHS around £3 billion per year, with additional cost to the economy of £4 billion in lost productivity, disability and informal care.

The treatment is due to be phased in from later in 2017, benefiting around 1,000 patients in its first year.

NHS England and Health Education England will then work with trusts to build up the number of centres capable of providing thrombectomy to patients with certain types of acute ischaemic stroke.

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens also praised the move: "This major national upgrade to stroke services puts the NHS at the leading edge of stroke care internationally.

"It's another practical example of the NHS quietly expanding innovative modern care that will really benefit patients, but which tends to be invisible in the public debate about the NHS."

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said the move puts the NHS at the 'leading edge' of stroke care. Credit: PA

St George's University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in south London was the first hospital in the UK to provide a thrombectomy service around the clock.

Dr Jeremy Madigan, consultant diagnostic and interventional neuro-radiologist at St George's, described the advantages of the procedure.

Dr Madigan said that a thrombectomy offers "an 80-90% chance of opening up blocked vessels, compared to 30% with traditional clot-busting drugs.

"Patients with acute stroke require a range of different interventions, but providing a thrombectomy service - including at all times of the day, as we do at St George's - radically improves the range and mix of interventions available to us as clinicians."