HE helps to prevent more than 10,000 UK people having a stroke every year, saving the NHS £200m.

Professor Peter Rothwell is the founder of the Stroke Prevention Research Unit, a University of Oxford medical research team.

Based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, a team of more than 30 doctors, scientists, nurses and researchers conduct ground-breaking work to tackle the UK’s fourth biggest killer.

Prof Rothwell, who started the unit 14 years ago, said: “Stroke research was neglected compared to things like heart disease and cancer.

“They are very well-funded, and appropriately so, but this is the biggest cause of disability in Britain.

“It was neglected in research funding and that translates into a lack of publicity and national funding from charities and so on.”

In the 12 months from April 1, 2012, some 669 people from Oxfordshire went to hospital after suffering a stroke.

Nationally, seven per cent of men and 10 per cent of women die from a stroke.

One of the unit’s key breakthroughs was proof that transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) – or mini strokes – lead to a higher risk of a full storke.

The mini strokes have the same symptoms of a full stroke such as partial facial paralysis and temporary memory loss.

There are an estimated 46,000 cases of TIA every year in the UK.

Prof Rothwell said: “We showed that the risk of major strokes was much higher when you have had a TIA.

“It’s something that needs to be treated as an emergency, rather than just something you see in clinic.

“By doing this we’ve reduced the rate of TIA patients having second, larger strokes in the first 90 days by 80 per cent.”

In 2000 the unit was set up as a weekly specialist clinic, became a daily clinic in 2002 and an emergency clinic from 2005.

Oxfordshire patients now wait just 14 days for treatment rather than the average 80 days they waited in 2000.

And treatment of patients who are suspected of having a TIA has changed around the world, as they are seen as high-priority patients who need immediate treatment.

In the past 14 years, almost 100,000 people across Oxfordshire have been referred to the unit’s Oxford Vascular Study.

Most of those patients were referred to the team by GPs in one of the nine participating surgeries across the county.

The team then conduct tests to determine the exact cause of the TIA, the likelihood they will have another stroke, and what treatment to prescribe.

They then ask the patient to take their own blood pressure regularly – sometimes every day – using a machine which sends the results to the hospital.

There are follow-up appointments every few months, and then every few years, to check how the patient is doing after their initial TIA.

Some will have blood clots removed from the shoulder area with surgery and medication including blood thinners is also offered.

Among those who attends the unit is council employee John Morris, 49, who had a mini stroke last March.

The Abingdon resident said: “Everything I had on the first day at the unit would have taken weeks beforehand.”

Prof Rothwell added: “For the patients, we have provided a state-of-the-art service that they wouldn’t have got otherwise.

“We achieve things in Oxfordshire ahead of the rest of the country.”

Last month the unit was honoured at the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education, representing Oxford University.

The unit, which costs about £1m a year, is funded by research grants that go through the University and – thanks to a partnership with the Oxford University Hospitals Trust – takes up several floors in the west wing of the JR.

Prof Rothwell said: “It works very well, because we get to use this space and have a constant supply of research subjects. And the NHS save money on treating TIA patients at this hospital.”


‘I can’t speak highly enough about them’

One of the unit’s patients and research subjects is Sonia Howson, pictured, who had a mini stroke in November last year.

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She said: “I got up to go to the loo at about 6am and my face felt funny and numb like when you go to the dentist and have an injection.

“I thought it was my tooth and went to the dentist, then they sent me to the GP.

The retired bank clerk said: “When I went to the doctors she immediately called the unit up when she saw my face had dropped on the right-hand-side.”

Mrs Howson, 77, had several tests, including brain scans, blood tests, mental health capacity tests and memory exams.

She said: “They were so thorough. I’m amazed they take all this trouble over old people.

“I’m so fortunate belonging to my practice who works with them. I can’t speak too highly of them they are wonderful.”

Six months on, Mrs Howson still takes her blood pressure once a month, and will receive phone calls checking on her progress for several years from the unit.

The grandmother-of-three said: “I’m just so thankful, I really feel blessed and privileged. I know every day past 70 is a gift and they’ve let me have many more of them.”

Transient Ischaemic Attacks 

A TIA is a sudden problem with the functioning of one part of the brain which usually gets better within a very short space of time s Symptoms commonly include slurred speech or being unable to talk; numbness or paralysis; visual disturbances; and a feeling of disorientation.

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  • Other symptoms that people experienced included headaches, a feeling of weight or pressure around the chest, short term memory loss, loss of hearing and feeling lethargic.
  • Symptoms often come on very quickly, with no warning. It is important you seek help as quickly as possible.
  • For more information visit www.nhs.uk/actfast.

GPs are involved

There are nine surgeries that are part of the research scheme, as the unit does not have the money or manpower to deal with every stroke patient in Oxfordshire.

Beaumont Street surgery, Oxford

Bartlemas surgery, East Oxford

Berinsfield Health Centre, Berinsfield

Church Street practice, Wantage

The Abingdon surgery, Stert Street, Abingdon

The Malthouse surgery, Abingdon

Marcham Road Family Health Centre, Abingdon

Kidlington and Yarnton Medical Group

Exeter surgery, Kidlington