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Having more specialist stroke nurses could save lives

Tagged In:  Nursing

A recent study has shown that increasing the number of trained stroke nurses by just one per 10 beds could reduce mortality by up to 28%

In the UK, someone suffers a stroke every 3 minutes 27 seconds. One in eight strokes are fatal within the first 30 days. One in four are fatal within one year. Those startling statistics make stroke the fourth single biggest killer in our country.

A new study suggests that there may be a simple way of reducing the death rate from stroke: more specially trained nurses. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and University of East Anglia studied 2,388 acute stroke patients in eight NHS trusts, examining the effect that patient and service characteristics had on mortality at seven, 30 and 365 days post-stroke. One of their main conclusions was that having higher numbers of trained nursing staff was of direct clinical benefit. 

The research supports a 2014 study of stroke care at weekends, involving almost 57,000 patients admitted to stroke units in England over an 18-month period. This study found that, although weekend ward rounds by stroke doctors were not crucial, the intensity of nurse staffing at weekends was associated with mortality rates.

In their latest report, published in November, the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP) expressed concern about the lack of trained stroke nurses in some hospitals. "There have been substantial improvements in the proportion of patients being seen by specialist stroke doctors and nurses within 24 hours of arrival in hospital over the past three years,” they said. "Despite these substantial improvements in early acute assessments, we are concerned by the current staffing levels of stroke consultant and nurse specialists.”

It's not just in preventing death from stroke that nurses play a key role. In 2014 Dr David Clarke, a lecturer in stroke care at the University of Leeds, published a study of the role of nurses in stroke rehabilitation, when acting as part of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) with doctors, healthcare assistants, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and physiotherapists. He found that all members of an MDT share the view that nurses can make an active contribution to stroke rehabilitation and can integrate rehabilitation principles into their routine practice.

The good news is that stroke mortality rates in the UK decreased by 46% between 1999 and 2010. All hospitals now have a dedicated stroke unit and 50 of those were judged by SSNAP to be world class.

However, we still lag behind many other European countries when it comes to survival rates, with just under 40,000 people dying from stroke every year. If that figure is to fall further, continued investment in the valuable skills and dedication of specialist nurses is vital. 

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