The Irish Heart Foundation has said that around 800 stroke sufferers a year are at increased risk of death and disability, due to an alarming fall in the percentage of patients getting clot-busting treatment on time.

The foundation says that an analysis of HSE data shows that just 60% of patients got to hospital within a crucial 4.5-hour window for thrombolysis in 2020 - compared to 73% six years earlier.

The latest Irish National Audit of Stroke, due out tomorrow, is also expected to confirm a further decline in 2021 – a situation the charity describes as "shocking and avoidable".

Research carried out by the foundation shows that fewer people recall the vital FAST (Face, Arm, Speech and Time) warning signs of one of Ireland's biggest killers.

"A range of factors can delay someone with stroke seeking help, but lack of knowledge and awareness of symptoms is one very avoidable risk that we can work to change," said Professor Rónán Collins, the HSE's National Clinical Lead for Stroke.

"We urge people to learn about the signs of stroke and to act as fast as possible in calling an ambulance.

"The faster people seek help and can present to an emergency department, the better the outcome from specialised treatment for a stroke."

The foundation has launched a new Act FAST – Minutes Matter campaign aimed at reversing the worrying trend.

Prof Collins told RTÉ's News at One that it is crucially important for people to recognise the symptoms of stroke and ring an ambulance as soon as possible, as treatments are time dependent.

He said less than 50% of stroke patients arrive at a hospital within three hours.

The average stroke destroys around two million brain cells every minute, the condition killing 1,423 people in Ireland in 2021 and hospitalising over 6,000.

The Irish Heart Foundation's Director of Advocacy, Chris Macey, said both the reduction in prompt stroke treatment and the charity's new Ipsos research on knowledge of the FAST signs show a "low public awareness" of the need to get to hospital without delay.

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Tracey Brown suffered a stroke on St Stephen's Day 2021 when she was just 34 years old.

Speaking to RTÉ's News at One, she said she had been out celebrating the night before and struggled to get out of bed when she woke up.

When she was finally able to stand up, she fell over.

"My husband woke up and knew that this was not normal. He was able to look at me at that point and ask 'are you still asleep? Are you drunk?'," she said.

"He noticed at this point that my speech had been slurred. He tried to pick me up to get me on the bed and realised I was complete dead weight.

"We are pretty sure that within 15 minutes of me waking up is when the stroke happened and I think the ambulance took around 20 minutes to get to us and we were at the hospital within the hour.

"By doing that I was able to receive this miracle clot-busting treatment that was able to reverse a lot of damage that could have happened."