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Stroke consultant shortage 'hurtling towards crisis'

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Almost half of hospitals have a shortage of specialist stroke consultants, new figures suggest. One charity fears "thousands of lives" will be put at risk unless action is taken, with others facing the threat of a lifelong disability.

In 2016, Alison Brown had what is believed to have been at least one minor stroke, but non-specialist doctors at different hospitals repeatedly told her she did not have a serious health condition. One even described it as an ear infection. 

Ten months later, aged 34, she had a bilateral artery dissection - a common cause of stroke in young people, where a tear in a blood vessel causes a clot that impedes blood supply to the brain. She was admitted to hospital - but again struggled for a diagnosis. A junior doctor found an issue with blood flow to the brain but she says their comments were dismissed and she was told it was a migraine. It was only when she collapsed again, days later, and admitted herself to a hospital with a dedicated stroke ward that a specialist team was able to give her the care she needed.

Alison's case highlights the importance of being seen by stroke specialists. However, according to new figures from King's College London's 2018-19 Snapp (Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme) report, 48% of hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had at least one stroke consultant vacancy for the past 12 months or more. This has risen from 40% in 2016 and 26% in 2014.

The Stroke Association charity - which analysed the data - says the UK is "hurtling its way to a major stroke crisis" unless the issue is addressed.

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Source: BBC News, 17 January 2020

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