Life at the top - and at the bottom of the pack

Another week, another Stroke Association event, another trip to London....

This time I was in the capital for a bigger version of the strategy workshop I attended in Birmingham two weeks ago. The attendees included a number of stroke-survivors I have encountered previously, research professionals from the Stroke Association and a decent amount of very  senior medics, including Professor Marion Walker MBE, who gave the Stroke Association Keynote Lecture which I attended in London earlier this month.

Even for an experienced journalist who is used to meeting 'big-name' people, it was an interesting experience talking to Professor Walker over coffee - and she did remember me from our London encounter!

What came across very clearly was how difficult it is for the people at the top of the tree to appreciate the day-to-day problems of stroke-survivors. That's not a criticism, just an observation. So often, highbrow plans are formulated which are supposed to make our lives easier, but if GPs and (remarkably) hospital consultants don't really understand stroke, which too many don't, the plans don't move forward. 

  Obviously, what was said in the room has to stay in the room, but I can say that some of the examples we gave left the medical people horrified about just how little doctors at the sharp end actually understand. 

I heard this week about someone who suffered a mini-stroke last July 'and to date has received zero rehab support so no encouragement to exercise.' As my source said: "I guess the GP thought that because he bounced back so well, there was no need. In many ways, treatment was very delayed. It's actually a miracle that it wasn't a lot worse.''. Doctors who think like that fill me with anger. Even a mini-stroke has a lasting effect on the sufferer but because there are little or no visible consequences, too often people are sent away to get on with life. 

Yet according to Stroke Association research, one in ten of the 46,000 people every year who suffer a TIA will go on to have a major stroke within a week without treatment. The study said that if all patients experiencing a mini-stroke in the UK were given emergency treatment, almost 10,000 of the 100,000 strokes in the UK each year could be avoided. 

Not enough is known about stroke, probably because not enough is known about the brain. Yet in 2012 (the latest figures available) £56million was spent on stroke research while £544million was spent on cancer research. That's not a complaint about money spent on cancer research (I have good friends who used to work for Cancer Research UK) but rather a plea for better understanding of stroke and the brain generally. 

What we know now is not enough and the inadequate way in which too many GP's deal with stroke is terrifying.