Speech by James Reilly, Minister for Health at the Irish Heart Foundation

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here today. Delighted, first of all, because of an odd thing I noticed last year. Now, to be perfectly honest, noticing ANYTHING is difficult when you’re preparing to fight an election that could come at anytime. But one thing slid through all the static, and that was the pickup from the FAST campaign. It’s only anecdotal evidence. Still, it matters. It matters that one women I know believes that she may have saved her husband, her children father from serious disability by acting speedily when she recognised the signs of a stroke. It matters that people have effortlessly absorbed the key actions to be taken.

Great campaign. Congratulations to the Irish Heart Foundation for making the complex simple, for making the threatening manageable. For making a quiet killer visible.

And for proving a point we sometimes miss: people LOVE to be put in charge of their own health. I’m not a big fan of that buzzword “empower.” I just know that if you give people the information they need at the time they need it, they relish taking control of the task of keeping themselves well or coping with an illness.

Stroke is costly. It costs lives. It takes away freedom. As The Cost of stroke in Ireland report from the Irish Heart Foundation demonstrated, it has huge economic costs, too. Its also personal. My late father at the ago of 66, having semi retired and looking forward to golfing his way around Ireland had a stroke. It left him blind and blighted the remaining 14 years of his life.

That’s the bad news – and it isn’t news. Not really.

The good news is the progress being made, and I don’t just mean through campaigns like the FAST ads.

We’re losing fewer lives to strokes. Nevertheless, we still have about 30,000 people and their families living with residual disability from stroke. One in ten people remain heavily dependent in long-term institutional care. With longer life expectancy after stroke and an ageing population, stroke will continue to pose challenges for individuals, families, communities and the health service for years to come.

We’re now implementing “Changing Cardiovascular Health,” a framework for the prevention, detection and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke.

  • With regard to hospital and emergency care services, we need to reconfigure stroke services in a hospital network that’ll allow stroke patients to be brought directly to the right place for initial treatment – quickly.
  • Two lead clinicians within the HSE now are in charge of making the recommendations in the new Policy happen.
  • They’ll be pushing to improve service quality, effectiveness and patient access. And to ensure care is provided in the most appropriate service setting.

In June 2010 the Hospital Emergency Stroke Services (HESS) Survey obtained information from all 33 acute hospitals admitting patients with a suspected stroke. It revealed a significant increase in the number of stroke units. Maybe not cause for huge celebration, given the very low base we started from: one such unit. Now we’ve 19.

Sixteen hospitals reported delivering 24-hour thrombolysis, while 24 hospitals reported having 24-hour CT scanning. Some 15 hospitals reported having arrangements in place to fast track stroke patients.

We’re seeing what can be achieved with the concerted support of clinicians and healthcare workers, even in these very challenging economic times.

Prevention, of course, is pivotally important, and that’s one of the reasons for this Government’s emphasis on Primary care. It’s in Primary Care that people can get – early and often – the information to help them shape a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle that can help prevent stroke.

A key factor is obesity. We had something close to an obesity epidemic before the recession hit. The recession is not going to help. Someone once said that in a recession “We swallow more pills, drink more beer and eat more junk.”

We have to do something about that, and I’ll be talking with the Ministers for Education, Environment,Sport and Children to plan an inter-Departmental initiative on obesity. Because if there ever was a problem that required joined-up Government thinking, obesity is it. Because it has so many dire consequences. Including stroke.

Life after a non-lethal stroke can be very tough. Everything from the timing of discharge from hospital and the need for continuing care impinges on functional recovery and independence.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Council on Stroke has been central in the advances made on this issue.

Today’s conference is part of their continued committment, and I thank Mr Michael O’Shea, CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation and Dr Desmond O’Neill, Chairman of the Stroke Council for bringing together healthcare professionals and patient support groups to advance all aspects of prevention and care for people with stroke, and for putting this important issue centre stage.

Thank you