I was very pleased to see the prevention of strokes taking a high priority in the Long Term Plan. Preventing stroke has been a particular passion of mine since I was a ‘wet behind the ears’ teenager on a work placement prior to joining the training programme to be an Occupational Therapist (OT).
Over a six-month period for one afternoon a week I ‘helped’ at the stroke rehabilitation unit of my local hospital. Every week I left the unit in tears because of what I had seen - the lives that had been devastated by stroke. The result of the placement was that I didn’t train as an OT, but the experience inspired a passion and determination to support prevention of stroke and great treatment for stroke survivors.
Fast-forward an undisclosed number of years and as well as being the Chief Executive of the Innovation Agency, I am a Trustee of the Stroke Association and sit on the National CVD System Leadership Forum.
I am immensely proud of the 15 AHSNs’ ground-breaking work to prevent strokes in people with atrial fibrillation (AF). It’s estimated that more than 1,200 strokes have been avoided since the start of the AHSN Network’s national programme of work
The Innovation Agency, along with a number of other AHSNs decided to tackle atrial fibrillation almost as soon as we were established, as we recognised that stroke was a massive burden on health in our regions. I felt passionately that we needed to move work forward speedily and in our second year we teamed up with the European Brain Council, Atrial Fibrillation Association and Stroke Association to carry out a major campaign of pulse testing and awareness raising.
We continue to be active and have expanded our work in ways I couldn’t have anticipated five years ago. Our staff are working with GP practices to review AF cases and check patients are being given the most effective treatments; we have teamed up with pharma companies to try out equipment in people’s homes, linked by an app to clinicians in charge of their care.
We distribute amazing, tiny portable ECG devices to test pulses in all sorts of settings and work with fire crews; volunteer AF Ambassadors; organisers of big events such as the International Tennis Tournament; football and rugby clubs; housing associations and other employers; universities and NHS trusts. This list goes on and I am so grateful for the enthusiasm and resources, we receive from our partners.
In the last five years across the national AHSN Network, we have distributed over 6,000 portable pulse testing devices of different types to carry out pulse testing and identify possible atrial fibrillation. My own AHSN, the Innovation Agency, has distributed over 600 pulse testing devices; carried out an estimated 20,000 pulse tests; and we estimate that we have identified around 600 cases of possible AF in the North West Coast, referring them for treatment and avoiding potential strokes.
The ground-breaking work of AHSNs and charities such as the Stroke Association to prevent strokes is given a massive boost in the Long Term Plan with the mention of a package of activity to prevention and treatment.
We’ve still got a long way to go to prevent the devastating health and economic impact of stroke - but the measures announced in the Long Term Plan are an important stepping stone in the journey to achieve this.