Life-saving stroke service for regional patients

Thousands of regional patients will have a second chance at life when stroke patients get 24/7 access to life-saving treatment under the NSW Government’s new $21.7 million state-wide telehealth service.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the service, which is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, will deliver faster treatment to the 4,250 patients in regional NSW who will have a stroke this year.

“Being assessed and receiving treatment for a stroke is absolutely time critical and I want to ensure every patient no matter where they live has quick access to specialist care so they have the best possible outcome,” Mr Hazzard said.

“This real-time expert assessment and treatment can mean the difference between life-long disability and a person being able to recover to a normal life.

“People generally think of stroke as something experienced in old age, but stroke occurs across the community, including little babies, children, and young adults.

“In fact, the trend is for increasing incidence of stroke among the under 65s.”

Stroke telehealth services have been shown to vastly improve the prognosis for regional and rural patients by enabling earlier diagnosis and appropriate therapy.”

The $21.7 million Centralised Stroke Telehealth Service to be rolled out over three years will provide 24/7 access to specialist clinical advice for the management of acute ischaemic stroke patients at regional and rural hospitals.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Commonwealth had contributed $9.4 million to this important service, which will enable stroke patients to be assessed in regional hospital emergency departments by a virtual stroke physician.

“Together, the local emergency physician and the virtual stroke physician will assess, diagnose and determine the appropriate treatment plan for the patient. Where possible, initial treatment will be provided locally,” Mr Hunt said.

“For patients requiring a higher level of care, the team will coordinate timely transfer to highly specialised services.”

A roster of neurologists/stroke physicians will use telehealth technology to remotely access a stroke patient’s medical images and conduct a remote consultation to determine a treatment plan. If acute stroke is diagnosed, the treatment plan may include thrombolysis or referral to a metropolitan centre for endovascular clot retrieval (ECR).

Thrombolysis and ECR, known collectively as reperfusion therapies, are breakthrough medical interventions for acute stroke that dramatically decrease the risk of death or long-term disability after a stroke. Reperfusion therapies are time-critical because ‘time is brain’, meaning that brain cells are irreversibly damaged every minute the brain is deprived of oxygen during an acute ischaemic stroke.

The service will expand an existing pilot project in the Mid North Coast Local Health District that has had promising outcomes for patients, with early results showing the number of patients receiving appropriate stroke therapy has more than doubled. It is planned to be fully operational within the second half of this year.

NSW has 42 hospitals in a network of stroke services providing care for patients across the state.

For more information on the stroke telehealth pilot go to: