Ulster stroke victims are being denied a clot-busting drug already available in the rest of the UK which would significantly improve their chances of recovery, a charity warned today.
The Department of Health came under fire from the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association this morning - accused of failing to provide the drug which has proven to guard against the chances of long-term disability.
The charity's chief, Andrew Dougal, said that Northern Ireland is the only UK region where a treatment called Tissue Plasiminogen Activator (TPA) is not offered to patients. He said he has been lobbying the Government for a full decade for the drug to be made available.
He spoke out after Professor Hugh Markus, of the Centre for Clinical Neuroscience at St George's, University of London, claimed that the UK has the worst outcome for stroke victims in western Europe and must improve.
Despite spending the same amount or more as other countries on care, the UK still lags behind, he argued.
Professor Markus said three different studies had put the UK at the bottom among several other western European countries.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today, he called for professionals and the public to start seeing stroke as something that needs emergency action.
Mr Dougal said that around 4,500 strokes are suffered in Northern Ireland every year, making it the biggest cause of disability. It is also one of our biggest killers, with 1,450 dying from a stroke each year.
He said that if TPA was made available here, it could drive down the numbers of stroke patients affected by long-term disability. The patient must receive the drug within three hours of the onset of an ischemic stroke, caused by blockage to the arteries, if it is to be effective.
"It is of no use to a patient after three hours so this highlights the need for quick action," he said.
"TPA would bring down the number of those suffering long-term disability by about 5% and that could grow. It's been available in Great Britain for a number of years. This is just another example of how we in Northern Ireland lag behind."