Irish Heart Foundation launches groundbreaking phone support service for newly discharged stroke survivors

A national phone support service to help newly discharged stroke survivors make the transition back home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has been launched by the Irish Heart Foundation in conjunction with the HSE’s National Stroke Programme.

The check-in service is a ground-breaking response to significant reductions in community supports for stroke survivors resulting from both illness and the redeployment of large numbers of healthcare professionals to help tackle the COVID-19 emergency, coupled with earlier than usual discharge of many patients from hospital.

“Leaving the care of an expert team of doctors, nurses, and therapists to return home after suffering a brain injury is likely to be traumatic at any time. To do so without help to transition at a time of national health crisis and in many cases earlier than would normally be the case is a lot to ask of stroke patients,” said Irish Heart Foundation Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey.

“We know from supporting stroke survivors in our groups around the country the extreme impact that COVID-related anxiety and isolation is having on people who are well settled back in the community and we’re naturally eager step into the breach with the help of the HSE’s National Stroke Programme to provide this vital service to some of Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The phone service – which became operational last week (Thursday, April 23) – involves trained and experienced Irish Heart Foundation staff and volunteers making regular calls to stroke survivors who have been referred by acute hospital stroke teams to check on their health and wellbeing, provide information and advice about recovery from stroke and to make sure that practical needs are met enabling stroke survivors to stay safe.

Initially, the calls are being made by the Irish Heart Foundation’s team of stroke support coordinators – who are already supporting hundreds of members of the charity’s stroke groups across the country. But as volumes increase, volunteers including stroke survivors and carers will also be activated. The callers are backed up by the Irish Heart Foundation’s support line nurses, whilst a traffic light system is in place to escalate calls when necessary to stroke nurses or the emergency services.

Said Professor Ronan Collins, the HSE’s National Clinical lead for Stroke: “Returning to life after stroke can be challenging at the best of times and may seem more difficult to recovering patients in the current COVID crisis. With the added pressure on health services created by the crisis, our normal hospital and community supports for stroke patients may be reduced through staff redeployment and illness. The support to patients offered by this initiative from the Irish Heart Foundation is greatly welcomed by the National Stroke Programme.”

It’s estimated that around 7,500 people are hospitalised after a stroke in Ireland each year – the equivalent of 21 strokes a day nationwide and the majority of people will be discharged home after spending an average of around two weeks in hospital.

“This means that every day the numbers needing support are growing,” added Mr. Macey. “However, whilst this service was primarily established to assist newly discharged stroke patients, we have developed the capacity to support any stroke survivor, regardless of how long they have been living with the condition. Our message to every stroke survivor in the country is that if you need us, we are here for you.”

In addition to the phone check-in service that actively makes calls to stroke patients, the Irish Heart Foundation’s nurse support line is available to answer questions any member of the public may have on any aspect of heart disease and stroke. Nurses can be contacted by calling 01 668 5001 or emailing support@irishheart.ie.

The Irish Heart Foundation support group network is already supporting more than 3,000 people. This includes 26 stroke and heart failure support groups around the country that are supporting members through regular phone calls and WhatsApp groups, along with groups for specific cardiac conditions such as cardiomyopathy and Long QT Syndrome. It also incorporates closed Life After Stroke and Heart Support Facebook groups that are providing advice, interaction, and peer support, along with Facebook live sessions on everything from mindfulness to good nutrition.

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