Focus: Communications - Campaign - Stroke group takes longer-term view

The Stroke Association has scrapped its annual awareness week and replaced it with an 18-month campaign because it feels that charity awareness days and weeks have reached saturation point in the UK.

The association's longer-term campaign is designed to encourage health professionals and members of the public to treat strokes as a medical emergency.

"Our own research shows that the public are bombarded with too many awareness days and weeks," says Joe Korner, director of communications at the Stroke Association. "As a result, their cachet has been weakened.

"We will still try to encourage our supporters to hold fundraising activities, but we feel that even 18 months is probably not enough time to achieve what we are trying to do."

The charity is attempting to educate people to recognise the symptoms of a stroke before it can cause major damage.

"Strokes are the biggest cause of severe disability in this country," says Korner. "They cost the health services £2.5bn a year, and that doesn't even include what is being spent on incapacity benefit and long-term care, for example."

The campaign's key message is Fast, which stands for 'facial weakness, arm weakness, speech problems, test these symptoms'. The charity says this checklist is 95 per cent accurate, and is urging people to call 999 when all these symptoms arise in the same person.

It has produced 120,000 leaflets with guidelines on a detachable credit card-sized list that can easily be slotted into a wallet or purse. These will initially be sent to the charity's supporters, health specialists and stroke clubs, because people who have had one stroke are more likely to have another. The Stroke Association also hopes to get funding to distribute the leaflets in doctors' surgeries.

Another part of the campaign will focus on lobbying the Department of Health in a bid to secure greater investment in stroke units and thus more effective diagnosis and treatment.

Nick Pahl, development director at Help the Hospices, agreed that awareness days have lost their appeal in the UK. He said: "We have to be cleverer.

When we were trying to publicise World Hospice Day on 8 October, we deliberately avoided pitching stories that led on the day itself.

"But we found that in resource-poor countries, and even in some richer countries such as Canada, there was a much greater enthusiasm for the idea of an awareness day."

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