Stroke treatment differences found
Stroke patients admitted to hospital "out of hours" wait twice as long to be assessed and suffer delays in getting brain scans and a bed, according to a new report.
The study, covering NHS services in England and Northern Ireland, found "good evidence" that people admitted on weekends, evenings and bank holidays suffer worse outcomes than those admitted during routine hours.
Researchers found these patients wait twice as long on average to be assessed by a member of a stroke team (typically 188 minutes compared to 87 minutes for those admitted in hours).
The delay in being given a dedicated stroke bed is also longer for patients admitted out of hours (234 minutes compared to 211 minutes) as is the delay to receiving a brain scan (170 minutes compared to 120 minutes).
Accessing prompt care and treatment is essential to reducing the risk of death and disability from stroke, which affects around 150,000 people in the UK each year and kills about 53,000.
The data further showed that patients who suffer a stroke while already in hospital experience the "worst delays" in being assessed by a member of the stroke team and in getting a scan. "This suggests that hospital teams need to be educated about stroke symptoms and how to contact the stroke team," the study said.
The Stroke Improvement National Audit Programme report, covering 32,113 patients, found that one in three (34%) of all stroke victims are admitted to a ward that does not specialise in treating strokes. This is despite the experts behind the study saying all patients "need immediate stroke unit care".
While 94% of patients stay on a stroke bed at some stage during their hospital stay, a significant number do not arrive there quickly enough.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley added: "It is unacceptable that patients admitted to hospital out of hours stay longer and have worse results.
"There have been improvements made in 24/7 care for stroke survivors and more people are receiving clot-busting drugs (thrombolysis) than ever before."