‘They were all absolutely amazing’ - patient hails hospital staff as stroke service saves her life

A stroke victim has paid tribute to the dedicated hospital staff who she says saved her life.

By Fiona Thompson
Monday, 25 March, 2019, 05:00
Claire Challoner spoke of her experience of care at Sunderland Royal Hospital following a stroke.

For Claire Challoner, being in the right place for the care she needed ensured she was given the best chance of recovery from the moment her treatment began after she had a stroke last May.

She says she “cannot fault” the care she was given at Sunderland Royal Hospital, and says it was clear its staff loved their jobs, going above and beyond to ensure to offer her the best care possible.

Claire Challoner with some of the members of the Acute Stroke Unit team who helped to save her life.

The 39-year-old had finished work as a medical secretary at South Tyneside District Hospital’s gynaecology department and was in Sainsbury’s in Prince Edward Road, South Shields, when she began to feel unwell and called for help from the supermarket’s staff.

Within minutes she started to fall in and out of consciousness, her throat had closed up, she couldn’t speak, one of her eyes had closed and the right side of her body had become paralysed.

“I really thought I was going to die,” said Claire, who lives in Westoe, and was also comforted at the shop by her neighbour Denise Ridley and her service dog Dusty, who had been in the store at the time.

“An ambulance was called - I heard later that it arrived in seven minutes – and I was taken straight to Sunderland Royal.

New statistics show the changes to stroke care across South Tyneside and Sunderland.

“They got me there very quickly and five or six people were waiting for me on arrival.

“They immediately got to work inserting cannulas - a needle inserted into the vein - and arranging scans.

“They were so thorough and they were all absolutely amazing, constantly reassuring me, saying I was going to be all right, and doing everything they could to calm me.”

A CT scan and other tests confirmed she had a dissected artery in the front of her brain and a clot close to the brain stem and she was given thrombolysis - clot-busting drugs.

Claire, who felt unable to leave the house for four months as she recuperated, has been helped back to health by mum Marcella, with the community nursing team, the Stroke Association, and her dog Toby helping her rehabilitation.

She added: “It was the most terrifying experience of my life, but from the moment I arrived at Sunderland Royal Hospital I felt I was in safe hands and I knew that they would look after me.

“I am so thankful that I had such a fantastic team who gave me the treatment I needed so quickly.

“The attention to detail from everyone - consultants, nurses and healthcare assistants - was fantastic.

“Everything was checklisted and they didn’t miss a trick.

“They all shared information so I never had to tell my story twice because they all knew everything they needed to know, whether it was what I’d had to eat and drink or my medication.”

She says she will always be “massively grateful” for the care she has received, particularly in the crucial hours after the stroke. 

Claire, who is now back at work, said: “They have this amazing organised structure for every single thing they do and you can tell that they love their jobs.

“I was very lucky that I had them looking after me, and the million little personal touches made all the difference to what was a traumatic experience.”

She said while she understands the campaign calling for stroke services to remain at South Tyneside, she appreciates the reason for the changes.

“The hospital would love to have everything, but there are restrictions from the Government and it’s all down to population and they just couldn’t keep it here.

“I can’t fault them at Sunderland. I’d rather go to the hospital that’s well equipped and the good hospital than the one that’s not and be transferred.”

Health bosses say Claire’s story is a good example of how changes to stroke care services are already saving lives.

They say more patients across South Tyneside and Sunderland are now getting access to high quality care and life saving treatment following major changes.

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Back in December 2016, all acute inpatient stroke care was temporarily centralised at Sunderland Royal Hospital due to what health chiefs called “service vulnerability” and a severe shortage of specialist stroke staff at South Tyneside Hospital.

In February last year, both NHS South Tyneside and NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Groups agreed that the change should be made permanent as part of phase one of the Path to Excellence programme.

Now, latest data from the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP) shows the quality of stroke services has risen significantly over the past two years, with more patients now receiving timely care, delivered by specialists, in a dedicated acute stroke unit.

The figures use a series of measures known to prevent serious, long-term disabilities and give patients the best chance of survival and returning to as normal a life as possible following a stroke.

Since changes were first made, the NHS says there have been major improvements in outcomes for patients, especially those from South Tyneside.

The data shows:

* 70% of patients are now receiving a CT within one hour, compared to just 22% of South Tyneside patients prior to the change.

* 85% of eligible patients are now receiving thrombolysis (clot busting drugs), compared to just 9% of South Tyneside patients prior to the change.

* 74% of patients are now directly admitted to a dedicated acute stroke unit, compared to just 6% of South Tyneside patients prior to the change.

* The average time taken for South Tyneside patients to receive a CT scan has reduced from two hours to 35 minutes.

* The average time taken for South Tyneside patients to be assessed by a specialist has reduced from 13 hours to five hours and 47 minutes.

The service also says there have been many positive benefits for Sunderland patients, with research showing:

* 70% of patients are now receiving a CT within one hour, compared to just 41% of Sunderland patients prior to the change.

* 85% of eligible patients are now receiving thrombolysis (clot busting drugs), compared to just 63% of Sunderland patients prior to the change.

* The average time taken for Sunderland patients to receive a CT scan has reduced from just over one hour to 35 minutes.

* The average time taken for Sunderland patients to be assessed by a specialist has reduced from eight hours to five hours and 47 minutes.

Overall, the new specialist acute stroke inpatient service across both areas is now rated at level B and is only one point off A – the very highest level available in the NHS.

Before the changes, stroke services in South Tyneside were rated at level E and in Sunderland level D.

Consultant stroke physician Dr Jon Scott, who has helped deliver the new service, said: “By consolidating stroke services, we have been able to improve dramatically against national standards and best practice recommendations, and this has undoubtedly saved and improved lives.

“When we talk about ‘clinical excellence’ this is exactly what we mean.

“Patients from both South Tyneside and Sunderland now have access to seven-day specialist stroke services and, as a result, are being seen far quicker by medical and nursing staff which means they can start their rehabilitation sooner.
“The whole team have done a fantastic job of improving the service we offer and we will continue to build on this to ensure we provide our local populations with stroke care of the highest quality.”

Dr Matthew Walmsley, a GP and chairman of South Tyneside CCG, said: “These results are really fantastic to see and very clearly demonstrate the vast improvements in clinical care for our patients in South Tyneside.

“This could not have happened without making the difficult changes to our acute stroke services to bring our two teams together and strengthen the pool of stroke experts we now have readily available to care for our patients 24/7.”

Dr Ian Pattison, a GP and chairman of NHS Sunderland CCG, said: “These improvements in stroke services speak for themselves.

“By bringing our services together, patients in both localities are now getting quicker access to life-saving treatment, and that is testament to the hard work and vision of our stroke teams to improve care for patients.

“Our aim throughout the Path to Excellence programme is to make sure we deliver the very best possible care and clinical outcomes for our patients, and this means we must continue to evaluate and, where necessary, adapt our services so that we create future services which are amongst the very best in the NHS.”