PHA launches new public information campaign to raise awareness of stroke symptoms

Act FAST campaign image

The Public Health Agency (PHA) launches new public awareness campaign today (8th March) to promote awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke. The campaign will run from 8th March until 25th April across TV, radio, digital and outdoor.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death and one of the main causes of adult onset disability in Northern Ireland, but early diagnosis improves the chances of a good recovery. In Northern Ireland between April 2019 and March 2020, there were approximately 3,100 patients admitted to hospital with a stroke diagnosis.  While the majority of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, it can strike at any age, with 25% occurring in people under the age of 65.

Dr Michael McCormick, Interim Clinical lead at NI Stroke Network welcomed the new campaign: “This is a critical time to raise awareness and to remind the public to seek urgent medical care if they or someone they know experience any of the symptoms of stroke. The campaign will reinforce the message that people must not delay seeking medical treatment. A person is at a higher risk of death or disability if they take a stroke, than from COVID-19, if not treated urgently.

“Across Northern Ireland people are following the ‘stay at home’ advice as outlined in the COVID-19 restrictions, but we are concerned that many people are choosing to stay at home when they should be seeking medical attention. Each wave of the pandemic saw a significant reduction in stroke attendances to hospital. This was not unique to Northern Ireland and has been mirrored in many other countries. 

“A stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention, so recognising a stroke and calling 999 is crucial. To be most effective, stroke treatments such as thrombolysis (clot dispersal) and thrombectomy (clot removal) must be provided for suitable patients within a defined timeframe.  Any delays in seeking medical attention could mean that otherwise suitable patients will not be able to avail of the service. Knowing the signs and symptoms and acting FAST can improve the chances of survival and reduce the level of disability that results from a stroke. The faster you act the more of the person you can save.”

Dr McCormick added: “This campaign is one of a number which the NI Stroke Network and PHA have undertaken over recent years to encourage people to act FAST and dial 999. Whilst an increase could be seen in numbers of patients from June 2020 attending emergency departments, there has been a decline in November and December 2020. We hope the campaign will help change that.”

Follow the F.A.S.T approach, if you notice even one of these signs call 999.

•           Face - Has it fallen on one side?

•           Arms - Can they raise them?

•           Speech - Is it slurred?

•           Time - make the call immediately, Dial 999

Cathy Brolly from the Stroke Association said: “Last year we saw people with suspected stroke put off calling 999 due to fear of catching COVID-19 or being a burden on the health service. However, the sooner somebody who is having a stroke gets urgent medical attention, the better their chances of survival and a good recovery. The Stroke Association is supporting the Public Health Agency’s Act FAST campaign as we want more people in Northern Ireland to know the FAST test and be able to recognise a stroke. Acting FAST is the biggest thing you can do to save a life. As soon as you see any of the signs of stroke in yourself or someone else, you need to call 999.”

Neil Johnston from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke commented:“We support hundreds of people across Northern Ireland who have experienced stroke through our Family Support Service, Post Rehab Exercise Programme and Support groups. We know the consequences of stroke can be huge for them and their families. Please know the symptoms and act FAST.”

Your chances of having a stroke reduce if you understand the risks and take action to prevent a stroke happening. You can reduce your risk of having a stroke by:

• knowing and managing your personal risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol or an irregular heartbeat (e.g. atrial fibrillation);
• exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight;
• reducing alcohol consumption;
• stopping smoking

Many serious conditions such as stroke and heart attack can be successfully treated if patients receive care quickly – but could be devastating or fatal if treatment is delayed. If you notice even one of these signs, no matter how mild, make the call. Symptoms in the F.A.S.T. test identify most strokes, but occasionally a stroke can cause different symptoms. 

For further information including the signs and symptoms of stroke visit:

Further information

The Northern Ireland Stroke Network is an action focused group established to implement improvements in stroke services in line with:      

New Decade, New Approach (NI Executive, 2020)

Reshaping Stroke Care – Saving Lives, Reducing Disability (DoH, 2019)

Systems not Structures, Changing Health & Social Care (2016)

National Clinical Guidelines (NICE CG68, CG162)

Improving Stroke Services in Northern Ireland (DHSSPS, 2008)

The NI Stroke Network brings together the stakeholders in stroke care – providers, commissioners and patients - to support the development of high quality, cost effective and equitable stroke services.

Broad representation from all groups planning and delivering Stroke Services in Northern Ireland:

Senior managers from six Health and Social Care Trusts

Department of Health

Health and Social Care Board / Public Health Agency

Voluntary Sector – NI Chest Heart and Stroke / Stroke Association

Service Users / Carers



Professional Leads

Service Improvement Lead