Stroke survivors living with a disability will rise by a third by 2035, doctors have said as they warned the UK needs far more specialists in stroke medicine.
The British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) said there is a “significant and growing shortage of stroke consultants” in the UK, with around four in 10 hospitals providing stroke care having an unfilled consultant post – compared to less than three in 10 (26%) in 2014.
In its report, BASP said immediate access to procedures such as intravenous thrombolysis and mechanical thrombectomy, which dissolve clots and restore blood flow to the brain, can significantly decrease the risk of long-term disability and save millions of pounds in long-term health and social care costs.
But it warned that a lack of specialist staff “is limiting the ability of the NHS to deliver the latest medical advances and best treatment to stroke patients”.
The most recent estimates suggest there are currently 676 stroke consultants working in the NHS in the UK.
But BASP said this is nowhere near enough and an extra 226 full-time stroke consultants are required -a rise of a third on current figures.
Stroke is the fourth single leading cause of death in the UK and the single largest cause of complex disability.
More than 100,000 strokes occur in the UK each year.
The report said that while deaths from stroke have halved in the past two decades, without further action, survivors living with disability will increase by a third by 2035.
It puts the cost of stroke to society at around £26 billion a year including lost productivity.
Professor Tom Robinson, president of the BASP, said: “Stroke can be devastating for patients and their families, but the sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen.
“With more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, we must urgently address the deficit in stroke staff to ensure that everyone has access to specialist care as quickly as possible.
“Great advances have been made in the treatment available to patients, but to offer these treatments to as many patients as possible, we need more doctors to be trained in stroke medicine, and to encourage increased take-up of this vital specialism among medical students.
“Improving stroke care and modernising the stroke workforce is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan, and we look forward to working with NHS England and others to help give everyone affected by stroke the best possible care.”
Dominic Brand, director of external affairs at the Stroke Association, said: “Every person who has had a stroke should be cared for by people with the right skills, knowledge and expertise to help them recover and rebuild their lives.
“We know that patients who are cared for on a stroke unit by a team of specialist doctors, nurses and therapists are more likely to be treated effectively, and have more positive outcomes.
“Stroke is an enormously expensive condition with devastating consequences.
“We need a stroke workforce of sufficient numbers and skills to ensure that every stroke patient and survivor, regardless of where they live, has the best possible treatment, care and support.
“Alongside BASP, we are calling on health leaders across the UK to address the challenges of recruiting, training and retaining all types of health and care workers able to treat people affected by stroke.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “It’s great news for patients that more people are already surviving and thriving after stroke thanks to improvements in NHS care, with the number of lives saved set to increase as we implement the Long Term Plan.
“This will mean that more of a wide range of staff will be required, and our Interim People Plan sets out what we can do now to modernise our stroke workforce ahead of long-term funding decisions for training being made by Government later in the year.”