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Emotional support for stroke patients

17 May 2013

Health Care

Southend University Hospital’s highly-acclaimed stroke unit has received another boost with the appointment of Clinical Psychologist Dr Amy Bartlett. Once again, Southend’s stroke services have shown themselves to be at the front of the field – Dr Bartlett’s appointment came ahead of a call from the Stroke Association for the emotional impact to be given the same priority as physical rehabilitation.

Dr Bartlett's post and that of her community based colleague were created as a QiPP project, through collaboration with local service commissioners and providers (Southend CCG, Castle Point and Rochford CCG, NHS Essex Commissioning Support Unit,SouthendHospitaland SEPT) with the aim of providing support throughout the care pathway; hospital and community. Patients are referred to her by any member of the team caring for the patient.

Dr Bartlett said: "It is well documented that people experience psychological consequences of stroke, such as depression, anxiety and may have difficulty adjusting such a significant event in their life. "While physical effects like limb paralysis and speech changes are very visible, some changes in the brain do not manifest themselves as obviously. People are therefore, not only managing the obvious changes but also those which are more 'invisible' (e.g. personality, concentration and memory) and often feel frustrated that they are not seen or easily explained."

She said: "My role is to support people's understanding and management of the psychological, cognitive and emotional consequences of what can be a significant life-changing event. It is not simply about working with the biological outcomes but acknowledging and normalising the emotional response. A stroke does not just attack the physical body - it can impact on self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and identity.

Stroke is an event for which there is no preparation and as such is often experienced as traumatic and overwhelming. Therefore, being tearful and worried about the future and experiencing a sense of loss is a completely appropriate response."

"I also work with family members as stoke does not only affect the individual who has experienced a stroke but also those who love and support them. The sense of uncertainty about how an individual will recover and the adaptation to this is shared by family and friends.  Research and experience shows that it is as important to support those in a person's network as the person themselves if the best possible rehabilitation is to be achieved. 

"As most of my hospital colleagues have not worked in mental health  I can offer knowledge about  the psychological aspects of stroke and support thinking about the best way to work to support patient's needs."

As well as seeing acute patients on the ward, Dr Bartlett holds outpatients clinics for those back at home who are trying to adjust to the changes following stoke.

"I have already had some lovely feedback - people feel very positive about the service."

Lead stroke consultant, Dr Paul Guyler said: "This is an area of stroke that is undervalued and unavailable in many parts of the country. It is so important to help people recover from a stroke - physically and psychologically - and we are very glad to have Dr Bartlett, to improve further the quality of our stroke services for our patients."