People have been “put off” from seeking care for symptoms of stroke during the coronavirus pandemic, health officials have warned.
The Act F.A.S.T campaign has been relaunched in a bid to remind people that strokes are medical emergencies and require immediate treatment.
The campaign urges people to contact 999 if they notice any symptoms of stroke, including facial weakness, arm weakness or speech problems.
During the early part of the pandemic, between March and July last year, there was a 13% drop in hospital attendances for stroke in England, Public Health England (PHE) said.
Clare Perkins, head of the Cardiovascular Disease Programme at PHE, said: “Stroke is a medical emergency and is still one of the leading causes of death in England.
“It is vital people know how to spot the signs of stroke and if they have any concerns about any early signs whatsoever to call an ambulance immediately – don’t wait until a second potentially more fatal stroke hits.
“The most common signs of stroke are changes to the face, arms and speech – acting fast and getting treatment will help save lives and prevent people from severe disability.
“The NHS is open, safe and if you suffer a stroke will want to see you as soon as possible – don’t hesitate just call 999.”
PHE said that it is also launching targeted campaigns to communities from ethnic minorities.
It said that on average people of black African, black Caribbean and South Asian descent in the UK have strokes at an earlier age.
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, added: “Acting Fast (Face Arms Speech Time) is the biggest thing you can do to save a life.
“As soon as you see any of the signs of stroke in yourself or someone else, you need to call 999.
“Last year we saw thousands of people with suspected stroke put off calling 999 due to fear of catching Covid-19 or being a burden on the NHS.
“People could now be living with more severe disability than they otherwise would because they put off calling 999. That’s why you need to know that acting Fast and calling 999 saves lives.”
There are around 100,000 strokes a year in the UK leading to around 34,000 deaths.
Early treatment not only saves lives but results in a greater chance of a better recovery, as well as a likely reduction in permanent disability from stroke.
Dr Deb Lowe, national clinical director for stroke medicine for the NHS in England, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has been a very worrying time for people and it has meant that some people have ignored symptoms of stroke.
“Stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, so it is very important that people know how to spot the signs and dial 999 if they suspect they are having a stroke so we can reduce disability and save lives.”
For more information visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke