GPs should refer patients with suspected stroke straight to hospital rather than visit them first, a DoH campaign warns.
The campaign is centred on the acronym 'FAST' - face, arm, speech, time. If there are any signs of a change in someone's face, any sensation loss in the arms or a speech deficit, it is time to call an ambulance, the campaign says.
Launching the initiative, Professor Roger Boyle, the DoH director for heart disease and stroke in England, said that reducing delays in treatment could halve the number of deaths caused by stroke each year.
'We are asking GPs not to visit if there is a call to the practice saying "We've done the FAST test ourselves, and we think our granny has had a stroke",' he said. 'The GP, the practice and the receptionist should encourage callers to phone 999 or call 999 themselves.'
Professor Boyle said that the principal delay in assessing people who suffered stroke was caused by friends or relatives.
'Most of the delay is people waiting, not wanting to make a fuss and hoping it will all get better and not being aware that there is treatment available.'
The campaign will include advertisements showing stroke spreading like a fire through the brain.
The DoH says the fire imagery is designed to illustrate how swift emergency action can limit damage and increase someone's chances of surviving and avoiding long-term disability.
At present, stroke kills 67,000 people each year in the UK and 300,000 people live with moderate to severe disabilities after suffering a stroke.
The initiative will receive £12 million of funding over the next three years.
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