Stroke sufferers in Derry and the rest of Northern Ireland are missing out on a specialist life-saving procedure due to its reduced availability at present.

Mechanical thrombectomy is a revolutionary procedure that can make a huge difference to the prospects of someone who has suffered an ischaemic stroke – the commonest form of the disease.

Strokes need to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to minimise brain damage.

Thrombectomy is available in Northern Ireland via the Neuro Radiology team based in the Royal Victoria Hospital. It involves a catheter being inserted into the patient’s body through their groin and guided through veins and arteries up to their brain, at which point the radiologist wraps a stent around the blood clot and pulls it out.

The latest figures show that around 100 procedures were carried out in 2018 which is believed to be the highest number in a calendar year to date.

It is understood that approximately £500k has been invested in the service between 2018 -2020 to enhance its availability and expand the hours to 8am – 8pm from Monday – Friday.

Due to the highly specialist nature of this procedure and equipment/staff required, the DoH said it is only be feasible for this to provided at a regional centre which is equipped for it.

There are many examples of patients from across NI being successfully transported or diverted to RVH to receive the procedure.

The Department of Health (DoH) is planning to launch a public consultation on the future of stroke services within the next few months.

The document will seek views on improving access to hyper acute specialist stroke units and the establishment of a 24/7 thrombectomy service will form a key part of proposals.

Brenda Maguire, of the Stroke Association, said: “This is all really good news but we know that while access is improving, there is still room for further improvement.  In particular we would like to see the service available 24/7 so that no eligible patients miss out.

“Thrombectomy is only suitable for around 10-20% of all patients.”

She added: “Mechanical Thrombectomy is an important service because it can save lives and significantly reduce the level of disability people experience after stroke (improving lives and saving money too).

“We believe that everyone affected by stroke should have access to the best treatment, whenever they need it.  This will save lives and spare more people from devastating disability. We look forward to the important public consultation on stroke services and encourage everyone to get involved and share their views”

A Department of Health spokesperson commented: “Thrombectomy is available to stroke patients in NI at the RVH stroke unit. It is a highly specialised procedure which is only feasible on a single site in NI. As a result, the focus is on expanding the hours of availability on the RVH site.

“In 2018, over 100 patients benefitted from the procedure but it is recognised that there is potential for more people to benefit from the procedure.

“Consequently, the Department’s forthcoming consultation document will seek views on the establishment of a 24/7 thrombectomy service alongside the establishment of a number of hyperacute stroke units.”

Photo: Brenda Maguire of the Stroke Association.

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