Dr Deb Low urges people to dial 999 if they suspect a stroke

Public told to ‘act FAST’ as NHS uses AI to speed up stroke care

The NHS is urging anyone who thinks they or a loved one have symptoms of stroke not be put off seeking help because of coronavirus, but to ‘act FAST’.

In a message fronted by GIRFT’s joint clinical lead for stroke, Dr Deb Lowe, in her capacity as NHS national clinical director for stroke, top doctors are urging people who may be having a stroke to come forward for care as soon as possible.

Statistics show that A&E attendances fell significantly in April, but NHS staff have worked hard to ensure anyone who needs stroke care can safely get it despite the biggest public health emergency in over a century.

As the coronavirus pandemic set in, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust rapidly adopted an AI (artificial intelligence) tool to enable it to speed up decision making and treatment despite dealing with coronavirus. The new AI tool allows doctors to view patient scans remotely on an app and make better and faster decisions on the right treatment options for their patients.

AI solutions are being rolled out across the NHS to support clinical decision making on life-changing treatments including mechanical thrombectomy, a procedure which can prevent long-term disability and enable more people to be independent after their stroke.

However, senior medics are concerned that people are putting off getting help when they need it due to coronavirus worries.

As part of the Help Us Help You campaign the NHS is urging the public to continue to act F.A.S.T. and dial 999 when stroke strikes.  The F.A.S.T. (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) acronym is a simple test to help people identify the most common signs of a stroke, and emphasises the importance of acting quickly by calling 999:

  • Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
  • Arms – can they raise both arms and keep them there?
  • Speech – is their speech slurred? 
  • Time to call 999

Services across the country have been restructured to reduce the risk of patients being exposed to, or passing on infection in hospital. Plans were also set out to ensure people could continue to get care even if local ambulance and hospital teams were put under much more severe pressure than has been the case.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms of a stroke or another killer condition you should seek help as you always would – NHS staff have worked hard to ensure you can get it safely.

“The virus will be with us for some time and that means hospitals will be treating thousands of patients, but at the same time it is great to see cutting edge technologies like AI scans being brought in despite the coronavirus pandemic, to help speed up brain imaging and ensure quicker access to life saving treatment.”

Dr Deb Lowe, GIRFT joint lead and NHS national clinical director for stroke, said: “While NHS staff have rightly gone over and above to respond to the global coronavirus pandemic, providing safe, world-class treatment for killer conditions like stroke has always been a priority.

“Because of that incredible effort from all our doctors, nurses and therapy teams, the NHS has been able to provide care for everyone who has urgently needed it, but my fellow clinicians and I have been really worried that the number of people coming forward for stroke care at the right time has gone down.

“So if you or a loved one experience stroke symptoms, please help us help you, act FAST, and call 999. Our expert paramedics, stroke nurses, radiologists and doctors will ensure you get the care you need as quickly as possible.”

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive at the Stroke Association said: “I know that many people are worried about coronavirus but I’ve been reassured by the UK’s leading stroke doctors that their teams are ready to ensure that you get the right treatment.

“We’ve been working with the NHS to ensure that when you leave hospital, you get support despite the current restrictions so that no one is left feeling abandoned or isolated as you start to rebuild your life.

“If you or your loved ones are experiencing any one of the signs of stroke, the best thing for you and the NHS, is to call 999 and say you’re having a stroke.”

13 May 2020