A plan for Lancashire residents to have a potentially lifesaving stroke treatment available to them around the clock by the autumn could be in jeopardy – because of difficulties recruiting staff.

Known as a thrombectomy, the surgical intervention can not only prevent death from some types of stroke, but also preserve more of a person’s mobility if they receive it within a short time of being taken ill.

It is currently carried out at the Royal Preston Hospital seven days a week – for patients across Lancashire and South Cumbria – but only between 8am and 6pm.

But there is a question mark over an aim to have the service running 24 hours a day from later this year after it emerged that the necessary specialist staff were yet to be found.

Dr. David Levy, medical director of the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), told a meeting the 24/7 operation had been “commissioned”, but the “key issue” was Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) was currently “unable to recruit the workforce required to deliver it”. The trust says it remains “committed” to providing the service.

It comes just days after a coroner ruled the lack of access to a thrombectomy “contributed” to the death of a care home resident from Chorley.  Edna Moss died in February 2023 after a stroke which was treated with thrombolysis, which dissolves blood clots.

An inquest into her death heard Ms. Moss’s stroke was severe and a thrombectomy was “appropriate” – but was not then available at the weekend.

That situation changed last September when a thrombectomy service was introduced on Saturdays and Sundays – but still only during daytime hours.

A planned move towards 24-hour availability by this autumn had been devised.

But at the time of the seven-day expansion last year, neither the ICB nor LTH restated the commitment to a round-the-clock operation within 12 months. 

Dr Gerry Skailes, chief medical officer for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said:  “Since having the funding confirmed for a seven-day thrombectomy service last year, we have been out to recruit additional radiologists into the service.

“Recruitment is also underway for radiographers – and successful recruits will then undergo an in-house training programme.

“These roles are hard to fill due to a national shortage of these very specialised colleagues, but we are committed to providing an extended service as soon as we have sufficient staffing numbers and the theatre space to offer this consistently.  A second angiogram theatre is currently under construction at Royal Preston Hospital,” Dr. Skailes added.

Stroke survivor and former NHS director Phil Woodford is angered by the problems. He spent four months in hospital and a further two months in a wheelchair after he lost the use of his left side following a major stroke in 2016.

He said: “The ICB approved the plans for this service several years ago and they have dragged their feet.   [There are] interventional radiologists [working in the county], but they are not trained in neuro.”

Mr Woodford says they could have been retrained in the three or four years spent unsuccessfully attempting to recruit candidates.

Thrombectomy can be used to treat some types of ischemic stroke involving blood clots blocking blood flow to part of the brain. The procedure requires a specially-designed clot removal device to be inserted through a catheter to pull or suck out the clot, in order to restore blood flow.

The surgery is most effective if carried out within the first six hours of a stroke occurring – and usually takes between one and three hours to complete.