Wigan stroke charity speaks of massive effect on care of Covid-19 pandemic

Carol Sankey, the chief executive of Think Ahead StrokeCarol Sankey, the chief executive of Think Ahead Stroke
Carol Sankey, the chief executive of Think Ahead Stroke
Think Ahead Wigan discussed the situation in the borough as a national report painted a bleak picture for patients.

The charity said the coronavirus hitting was like a “shockwave”, with face-to-face sessions and activities having to be rapidly replaced by online provision and measures put in place to support carers as extra pressure was placed on them by lockdown.

The charity also said it had to run campaigns in spring urging people not to abandon seeking medical help for conditions other than Covid-19 due to fear of getting infected.

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Think Ahead Stroke spoke as the first report into the impact of Covid-19 on stroke survivors spoke of delayed calls to 999, unavailable treatments and cancelled rehabilitation therapies.

The Stroke Association has called for immediate action from local government to stem a rising tide of demand on the NHS and other health providers which could last for years if left unchecked.

The pandemic has caused tens of thousands of stroke survivors avoidable, unnecessary disability, exacerbated mental health problems and has taken a devastating toll on stroke survivors and their families, the report says.

Think Ahead Stroke says it has been able to turn many of its activities virtual but admitted some were still only just being rolled out in a Covid-friendly format.

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And it said the pandemic will have had a considerable affect on stroke survivors going through their rehabilitation.

Think Ahead Stroke executive manager Carol Sankey said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected stroke care in Wigan and sent shockwaves through the entire stroke pathway.

“During peak lockdown in April, the number of people presenting themselves to hospital seemed to be lowering with fewer stroke admissions.

“In response to this we ran a campaign in April to shine a light on the seriousness of stroke, how to spot the signs of stroke, and to emphasise the importance of seeking professional help, despite the increasing anxiety surrounding Covid-19.

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“We also wanted to highlight the importance of spotting the signs of stroke and raising awareness of TIAs.

“Due to the increasing anxiety surrounding hospitals at peak lockdown, we feared that many would ignore the signs of a TIA due to the symptoms wearing off, unlike a full stroke.

“In March upon the introduction of lockdown, we had to suspend and cancel all face-to-face activities, groups, programmes, courses, trips and holidays.

“We knew that this would be the case with many face-to-face activity across the board and, appreciated that this would have a devastating effect on the mental wellbeing of many stroke survivors and carers in the borough.”

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Think Ahead Stroke said a key priority was to work with the North West Boroughs Foundation NHS Trust on turning its wellbeing programme into a virtual service.

The online course starts this month and runs for six weeks, and aims to combat the feelings of anxiety and low mood brought on by lockdown.

The charity has been able to adapt its peer mentoring programme to Covid-19 and also managed to create a weekly session for carers on Zoom in the early stages of lockdown.

The Stroke Association’s report is calling for immediate action to ensure stroke survivors can access community rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, for stroke teams to meet with everyone who had a stroke this year to ensure they can get the support they need, for health and care systems to prioritise access to mental health services and for adequate support to be provided for carers.

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The report says many stroke survivors have been left feeling extremely anxious and isolated by lockdown while carers have been faced with a round-the-clock effort to look after their loved ones without some of the care they can usually expect.

There were warnings that services were struggling to cope with demand at pre-coronavirus levels and fears that the events of 2020 mean thousands of stroke survivors are at risk of their recovery going backwards.

Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: “Strokes didn’t stop happening because of the pandemic, but some treatments became unavailable and most stroke aftercare ground to a halt.

“This means more stroke survivors are living with avoidable, unnecessary disability.

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People under-estimate the trauma associated with the sudden life-changing experience of having a stroke.

“The degree of support that stroke survivors need to reframe and adjust to a new normal, often needing to cope with lifelong disability, is a lot more than people realise.

“We need to see increased access to mental health support, so stroke survivors can cope with their mental health issues, made worse by lockdown and ongoing uncertainty.”

Stroke survivors and their carers in Wigan can find out more about local support by visiting www.think-ahead.org.uk