Stroke-related hospital admissions increased by almost 90% following the launch of the Irish Heart Foundation's (IHF) stroke campaign, FAST, last year, a new study has shown.
Every year in Ireland, around 10,000 people suffer a stroke and 2,500 die as a result. Last May, the IHF launched its FAST campaign in an attempt to raise awareness of the country's third biggest killer. The campaign includes television and radio advertisements.
The ‘FAST' acronym was developed to inform the public about the key symptoms of a stroke:
-Face - has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
-Arms - can they raise both arms and keep them there?
-Speech - is their speech slurred?
-Time - time to call 999 if you see any one of these signs.
The study was carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Beaumont Hospital and Connolly Hospital, both in Dublin.
It found that apart from the surge in stroke-related hospital admissions, 59% more stroke victims also got to hospital in time to receive potentially life saving thrombolysis (clot-busting) treatment.
According to IHF head of advocacy, Chris Macey, these results are ‘extraordinary'.
"They show the significant impact the FAST message is having in saving the lives of stroke victims and sparing many more from disabilities so severe that they would spend the rest of their lives in institutionalised care," he said.
He added that the figures demonstrate ‘the profound influence patients can have on their own outcome or that of a loved one after stroke just by knowing the warning signs and the necessity to call an ambulance immediately following an attack'.
The results of the study were announced at the launch of the second phase of the campaign in Dublin.
In addition to TV and radio advertisements and a poster and leaflet campaign across the hospital network, chemists and GP surgeries nationwide, the IHF also supported local awareness-raising efforts in 60 towns and cities following the FAST launch last May.
However, despite the encouraging start to the four-year campaign, Mr Macey noted that the large spikes in awareness were so far not being maintained in the aftermath of the various activities, particularly TV advertising.
"Awareness levels are dropping at the end of each wave of advertising, which underlines the need for more State support to ensure the message becomes more ingrained in the public consciousness. There is a lot of practical non-financial assistance they could give to help us develop long lasting awareness, such as putting FAST training on to the school curriculum, putting FAST messages on ambulances, and where appropriate, in high footfall areas of State-owned buildings and properties," he explained.
He insisted that this was not too much to ask for ‘given that the campaign is saving lives and is saving the State money' by reducing the need for nursing home places for stroke patients.
Mr Macey also pointed out that in spending €250,000 on the first phase of the campaign, the IHF has had to hand over more than €50,000 to the Exchequer in VAT payments.
According to the head of the RCSI's department of psychology, Anne Hickey, there was an 87.5% increase in hospital admissions among patients with facial droop, a 68% increase in those with weakness on one side and a 66% increase in cases of slurred speech during the campaign.
However, while presentations to A&E of suspected strokes identified by slurred speech remained high post-campaign, the others returned to near baseline in the aftermath.
Ms Hickey said that the research would continue until March, providing a full 12 months of data collection. This, she added, would provide a clearer picture of the lasting impact of the campaign.
For more information on the FAST campaign, click here
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