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A new treatment for stroke victims hailed by experts as a “gamechanger”, in terms of limiting brain injury and long term disability, is to be rolled out across NHS England after testing has showed its ability to outperform existing treatment methods by a significant margin.
It is estimated that mechanical thrombectomy – currently only offered at a handful of hospitals – will soon be used to save upwards of 8,000 lives a year. But this announcement also reminds us of the risks posed by undiagnosed strokes and the delays in treatment this can cause.
The procedure is used to help patients who have sustained a blood clot in the brain with the potential to cause brain damage and subsequent disability or death, and who have not responded to clot-busting thrombolytic drugs. It involves a doctor inserting a thin tube into one of the patient’s arteries – usually via the groin – and then manoeuvring it up through the body to where the blood clot is in the brain. Once there, a wire mesh instrument known as a stent – positioned on the top of the tube – is wrapped around the clot, with the doctor in charge (usually an interventional neuroradiologist) then extracting the clot to free-up blood flow to the brain once more.
Patients are usually sedated throughout the procedure and must receive treatment within 6 hours of having the stroke in order for it to be effective in preventing brain injury, disability or death. Therefore, the rolling-out of this new procedure reminds us of the importance of early diagnosis and the risks a delayed diagnosis of a stroke or undiagnosed stroke can have on treatment and a patient’s long-term prognosis.
The new procedure has produced remarkable results in the weeks and months leading up to the decision to offer it nationwide via the NHS, allowing patients who may otherwise have left hospital in a wheelchair with life-long disabilities, to walk out unaided within 48 hours of treatment.
Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, Juliet Bouverie, issued the following statement to the Guardian in response to the decision to make the treatment available across NHS England hospitals:
“This decision by NHS England could give thousands of critically ill stroke patients an increased chance of making a better recovery. It could also mean more stroke survivors living independently in their own homes, returning to work and taking control of their lives again as a result.”
“This is welcomed news at a time when there is much negative news surrounding the NHS. Suffering a stroke is of course serious, but medical advances in treatment mean that suffering a stroke does not need to have serious, long-term consequences for the patient’s health.
“Effective treatment can lead to a good recovery Effective treatment first requires an accurate diagnosis by a medical professional. Where a stroke is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, treatment such as that discussed may not be provided and a patient would then unnecessarily suffer, to a potentially significant and life-limiting or life-threatening extent.”
It is thought that mechanical thrombectomy is around 80-90% successful in reopening clogged arteries, against a 30% chance of success using conventional clot-busting drugs. Whilst the innovation does not protect against medical negligence and misdiagnosis of a stroke; with a greater ability to combat the effects of stroke, a larger proportion of patients can be spared serious illness which they may otherwise have suffered.
NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens is keen to follow the examples of Germany and France, who perform 7,500 and 3,500 thrombectomies a year respectively. Whilst the procedure costs around 12,000 each time, it’s thought the long term savings in terms of care provision costs far outweigh this, representing excellent value for the NHS.
In instances where you or your loved-one have suffered a stroke but this was misdiagnosed or the stroke went undiagnosed for a period of time and therefore correct treatment could not be provided within the necessary time-frame, you may be entitled to make a medical negligence claim for compensation for the illness suffered as a result.
Long-term health impacts of an undiagnosed stroke or misdiagnosed stroke, that has not been treated promptly, include moderate or serious disability and even brain injury. It is therefore not uncommon for an undiagnosed stroke claim to incorporate a brain injury claim.