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Pioneering Ulster University research is revolutionising the care of stroke patients worldwide by improving recovery and quality of life as well as delivering cost savings to the health service.

With 15 million people worldwide suffering a stroke every year, of which six million die and a further five million are left permanently disabled and dependent on others for daily activities, research into treatment options and cost efficiencies for the healthcare sector have never been more important.

Computer science researchers at Ulster University looked at data relating to 10,000 patients in a number of centres, including Belfast hospitals and St George’s Hospital, London to assess different care strategies, where and how stroke patients should be treated and the best technologies to improve recovery.

The findings have already informed healthcare policy and treatment decisions in the Belfast Trust and in London. Ulster University researchers are now sharing their unique approach to data analysis to international healthcare providers to deliver cost saving strategies, significantly improve stroke patient recovery and reduce the likelihood of long term disability or reliance on institutional care.

The Ulster University research highlighted that increasing the use of thrombolysis (clot-busting) drugs ultimately reduces long-term costs, improves overall patient quality of life and also improves recovery.

The research showed that the use of larger care facilities to centralise care in expert centres offers the best opportunity to improve survival rates, particularly as patients traditionally take numerous pathways through the healthcare system depending on the severity of their stroke.

Professor Sally McClean, Professor of Mathematics at Ulster University’s Computer Science Research Institute said: “Stroke incidence is increasing worldwide and the impact on patients and their families is immense. This increase of stroke is also leading to pressures on already stretched healthcare budgets here in NI and globally with costs in the region of £7 billion per year.

“It has never been more important to evaluate and refine stroke healthcare provision so that it is more cost-effective and patient focused. Ulster University research is now at the centre of this effort internationally. By using unique data modelling tools, we identified efficiencies and opportunities to improve care and quality of life.

“This research is already informing stroke healthcare practice across the UK and Europe. Our Computer Science Research Institute researchers are now sharing theresearch with other healthcare communities globally to help deliver more cost savings and optimise patient outcomes.”

Dr Ken Fullerton, Associate Medical Director for Unscheduled Care in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, explained: “The work undertaken by Ulster University has been very helpful in several ways. Most interestingly, the research demonstrated that when our community schemes receive more input from trained rehabilitation assistants it makes them accessible to greater numbers of patients at substantially reduced costs, but with better outcomes.”

Andrew Dougal, Chief Executive NI Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS), said: “ Recording and analysis of data is essential to efficient management for stroke clients. NICHS is delighted to see that this important research is already improving the care and the lives of stroke clients in Northern Ireland and across the World .”