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Open Access Ambulance service call handler and clinician identification of stroke in North East Ambulance Service

Introduction: Emergency medical services (EMS) are the first point of contact for most acute stroke patients. The EMS response is triggered by ambulance call handlers who triage calls and then an appropriate response is allocated. Early recognition of stroke is vital to minimise the call to hospital time as the availability and effectiveness of reperfusion therapies are time dependent. Minimising the pre-hospital phase by accurate call handler stroke identification, short EMS on-scene times and rapid access to specialist stroke care is vital. The aims of this study were to evaluate stroke identification by call handlers and clinicians in North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) and report on-scene times for suspected stroke patients.

Methods: A retrospective service evaluation was conducted linking routinely collected data between 1 and 30 November 2019 from three sources: NEAS Emergency Operations Centre; NEAS clinicians; and hospital stroke diagnoses.

Results: The datasets were linked resulting in 2214 individual cases. Call handler identification of acute stroke was 51.5% (95% CI 45.3‐57.8) sensitive with a positive predictive value (PPV) of 12.8% (95% CI 11.4‐14.4). Face-to-face clinician identification of stroke was 76.1% (95% CI 70.4‐81.1) sensitive with a PPV of 27.4% (95% CI 25.3‐29.7). The median on-scene time was 33 (IQR 25‐43) minutes, with call handler and clinician identification of stroke resulting in shorter times.

Conclusion: This service evaluation using ambulance data linked with national audit data showed that the sensitivity of NEAS call handler and clinician identification of stroke are similar to figures published on other systems but the PPV of call handler and clinician identification stroke could be improved. However, sensitivity is paramount while timely identification of suspected stroke patients and rapid transport to definitive care are the primary functions of EMS. Call handler identification of stroke appears to affect the time that clinicians spend at scene with suspected stroke patients.

Keywords: emergency medical services; stroke; triage

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust ORCID iD:, URL: 2: North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

Publication date: September 1, 2021

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