Rise in stroke calls during FAST campaign

The numbers are in – and they show that this year’s FAST stroke awareness campaign has been a success.

The three-month campaign, which teaches the main symptoms of stroke and to call 111, finished last Friday, and data from St John and Wellington Free Ambulance shows it’s made a big difference.

Before this year’s FAST campaign, St John was attending approximately 160 suspected stroke incidents every week. During the campaign the average rose to 196 incidents per week – an increase of 22% – peaking at 231 incidents in one week.  Likewise, the average number of call-outs confirmed as strokes increased from 45 per week before the campaign, up to 52 a week in July.

Also in July, Wellington Free Ambulance received 171 stroke-related calls. That compares to 140 calls in May 2017, the month before the campaign began, and 108 calls in July 2015, when there was no national FAST campaign.

“The numbers strongly suggest an increased awareness of when someone is showing the main symptoms of stroke, and the need to call 111 quickly,” Stroke Foundation CEO Mark Vivian says. “Each one of those calls could make a huge difference to someone’s life – it’s great to see the public taking the message on board.”

Last year there was a similar trend. St John recorded around 170 calls a week about stroke during the FAST campaign, compared to 140 outside of it.

Next week, St John launches four regional Acute Stroke Destination Policies for New Zealand. The policies confirm clinical criteria and timeframes for acute stroke patients and specify designated stroke hospitals in each area.  

“This presents an exciting opportunity to improve outcomes for acute stroke patients by ensuring they are transported to the most appropriate hospital and have prompt access to the best therapies for their situation,” St John Medical Director Dr Tony Smith says.

FAST (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 111) was developed by the Stroke Foundation. The national campaign is a joint venture with the Ministry of Health and Health Promotion Agency.

“We appreciate the support from the Minister, HPA and the Ministry to promote the campaign,” Mark Vivian says.

Here’s how FAST has helped: 

  • A Southland family saw the FAST TV ad during an evening get-together, and knew what to do when one of them had a stroke 10 minutes later
  • Because of the FAST TV ad, a Christchurch woman realised her mother’s arm weakness while she talked to her on the phone was probably a stroke, and called 111
  • A Waikato worker remembered the FAST ad when her colleague’s speech became slurred
  • A Taupo woman recalled the FAST message when her husband showed all three main stroke symptoms
  • A Rotorua woman whose face suddenly drooped realised she was having a stroke, because she had seen the FAST TV ad
  • A FAST fridge magnet helped a Wellington couple diagnose a stroke

 In all cases the stroke survivor has made a good recovery, and they and their families are grateful for the FAST campaign.

“These Kiwis had seen the TV ad, never realising they’d need to use FAST so quickly,” Mark Vivian says. “It just shows stroke can happen to anyone, at any time – and we all need to be prepared.

“Learn FAST. It only takes a minute but could make a lifetime of difference.”