People suffering from strokes in south west Hertfordshire are waiting longer to be treated in a specialist unit, according to figures released by the trust in charge of Watford General Hospital.

NHS guidelines state that 90 per cent of patients with a suspected stroke must be sent to a specialist stroke unit within four hours of being admitted to hospital.

However, the latest figures show that since April, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has transferred 61.5 per cent of patients within that time frame, and in May, it recorded 52.4 per cent.

The trust has blamed a lack of beds in the stroke unit and pressure in the A&E department for their failure to reach the national target in May, but stressed patients still received specialist care once admitted to A&E. 

Dr Mike van der Watt, medical director for the trust, said, "We are committed to ensuring patients who have had a suspected stroke receive the treatment they need as quickly as possible.  

"Our priority is to ensure they receive the expert treatment they need on arrival in A&E, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

"Whilst in the emergency care setting, patients will receive specialist stroke care, and have their scans and vital signs, for example, blood pressure, recorded.  May’s performance shortfall in patients being transferred to the stroke ward does not mean that they did not receive specialist stroke care from their arrival."  

 "Our emergency teams were under considerable pressure in May and as a result of these pressures within our A&E department and the availability of beds within the stroke unit, we did not meet the national target for admission to a ward. 

"Meeting the target is a challenge for hospitals across the UK and our A&E and stroke teams are working closely together to help ensure the standard is met."

Sara Betsworth, regional head of operations for the East of England at Stroke Association stressed the importance of ensuring that stroke victims are seen as quickly as possible.

She said: "Someone in the UK has a stroke every three and a half minutes. A stroke is a medical emergency. It happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off by a clot or damaged by a bleed which causes brain cells in the affected area to die. 

"When someone has a stroke it is vital that they get to a specialist stroke unit as soon as possible.

"A stroke can happen in an instant, but the effects can last a lifetime. A stroke is a medical emergency and when the symptoms start, you should call 999 and say you may be having a stroke. 

"A speedy response can help reduce the damage to a person’s brain, and improve their chances of a full recovery. A delay in getting help can result in death or long-term disabilities."