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NHS chief hails expansion of 'game-changing' treatment for stroke patients

Thousands of stroke patients in England will benefit from a "game-changing" treatment after plans to roll out the revolutionary procedure were approved by NHS bosses.

Undergoing a mechanical thrombectomy can significantly improve the chances of recovery for individuals who suffer from a severe form of stroke where blood vessels in the brain become blocked.

However to date the specialist treatment has only been available at a limited number of hospitals across the country.

The NHS plans to introduce the procedure at all 24 neuroscience centres across England, eventually benefiting an estimated 8,000 patients a year.

The move has been welcomed by stroke charities who say it will boost survival rates and improve the standard of living for people recovering from the illness.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: "This major national upgrade to stroke services puts the NHS at the leading edge of stroke care internationally.

"It's another practical example of the NHS quietly expanding innovative modern care that will really benefit patients, but which tends to be invisible in the public debate about the NHS."

The treatment is due to be phased in from later in 2017, benefiting around 1,000 patients in its first year.

NHS England and Health Education England will then work with trusts to build up the number of centres capable of providing thrombectomy to patients with certain types of acute ischaemic stroke.

The complicated procedure is carried out by a highly-trained practitioner called an interventional neuro-radiologist.

A long tube around 3ft long, known as a catheter, is inserted into an artery, usually through the groin, and a wire-mesh stent is fed through it into the brain.

Once at the site of a clot the stent is used to trap it and remove the blockage, restoring blood flow immediately.

The patient is usually sedated but can be under general anaesthetic.

Trials have shown that survival rates and quality of life are dramatically improved when a patient undergoes the procedure within six hours of symptoms beginning to show.

NHS England estimated the annual cost to the health service of the treatment would be £38 million.

A National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) analysis published last year suggested offering the procedure could cost individual commissioning groups up to £500,000 a year but trusts could achieve savings of £2.4 million as a result of reduced time in hospital and ongoing social care costs.

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive at the Stroke Association, said: "Thrombectomy is a real game changer which can save lives and reduce the chances of someone being severely disabled after a stroke.

"Stroke is the fourth biggest killer in the UK, and a leading cause of disability. Current treatment options are limited and do not always work.

"This decision by NHS England could give thousands of critically-ill stroke patients an increased chance of making a better recovery.

"It could mean more stroke survivors living independently in their own homes, returning to work and taking control of their lives again as a result. And this will undoubtedly lower NHS and social care costs for stroke."

St George's University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in south London was the first hospital in the UK to provide a thrombectomy service around the clock.

Dr Jeremy Madigan, consultant diagnostic and interventional neuro-radiologist at St George's, described the advantages of the procedure.

He said: "At St George's, our patients are benefiting from the thrombectomy service we provide, with an 80-90% chance of opening up blocked vessels via this technique, compared to 30% with traditional clot-busting drugs.

"Patients with acute stroke require a range of different interventions, but providing a thrombectomy service - including at all times of the day, as we do at St George's - radically improves the range and mix of interventions available to us as clinicians."

Stroke is estimated to cost the NHS around £3 billion per year, with additional cost to the economy of £4 billion in lost productivity, disability and informal care.

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