Stroke Care in the United Kingdom During the COVID-19 Pandemic
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has potentially caused indirect harm to patients with other conditions via reduced access to health care services. We aimed to describe the impact of the initial wave of the pandemic on admissions, care quality, and outcomes in patients with acute stroke in the United Kingdom. METHODS: Registry-based cohort study of patients with acute stroke admitted to hospital in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland between October 1, 2019, and April 30, 2020, and equivalent periods in the 3 prior years. RESULTS: One hundred fourteen hospitals provided data for a study cohort of 184 017 patients. During the lockdown period (March 23 to April 30), there was a 12% reduction (6923 versus 7902) in the number of admissions compared with the same period in the 3 previous years. Admissions fell more for ischemic than hemorrhagic stroke, for older patients, and for patients with less severe strokes. Quality of care was preserved for all measures and in some domains improved during lockdown (direct access to stroke unit care, 1-hour brain imaging, and swallow screening). Although there was no change in the proportion of patients discharged with good outcome (modified Rankin Scale score, ≤2; 48% versus 48%), 7-day inpatient case fatality increased from 6.9% to 9.4% (P<0.001) and was 22.0% in patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (adjusted rate ratio, 1.41 [1.11-1.80]). CONCLUSIONS: Assuming that the true incidence of acute stroke did not change markedly during the pandemic, hospital avoidance may have created a cohort of untreated stroke patients at risk of poorer outcomes or recurrent events. Unanticipated improvements in stroke care quality should be used as an opportunity for quality improvement and to learn about how to develop resilient health care systems.