Victorian stroke patients will now have the very best chance of survival with Australia’s first-ever dedicated stroke ambulance officially up and running.

Prof Stephen Davis and Prof Geoffrey Donnan

Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Ambulance Services Jill Hennessy officially launched the specially equipped ambulance at The Royal Melbourne Hospital in November.

The Mobile Stroke Unit (MSU) will save more lives by providing the quickest possible diagnosis and very best treatment for patients suffering a deadly stroke, before they even reach the hospital. Time is critical when responding to a stroke – every second counts.

RMH staff who operate the Mobile Stroke Unit
RMH staff who operate the Mobile Stroke Unit

The purpose-built, 5.3 tonne ambulance has an on board CT scanner capable of imaging the patient’s brain to detect the type of stroke they are experiencing to immediately start assessment and treatment, rather than after they arrived at the hospital.

The ambulance is also crewed with a stroke nurse, radiographer and two paramedics, with a stroke neurologist on staff at the hospital to receive and analyse scans. This will mean patients will receive faster treatments such as clot busting thrombolysis, which is required in four out of five strokes.

The stroke ambulance – which will travel within a 20km radius of the Royal Melbourne Hospital – will provide a more efficient road transfer to hospital, with patients receiving a seamless transition and connected care. It is expected the stroke ambulance will treat up to almost 3,000 patients a year.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in Australia, and causes more deaths than breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Director of Neurology and the Melbourne Brain Centre, Professor Stephen Davis (pictured with the Director of the Florey Institute, Professor Geoffrey Donnan), said Australia’s first mobile stroke unit (MSU) was all about bringing the stroke unit to the patient.

“Incorporating a CT brain scanner in the ambulance allows brain imaging and diagnosis at the patient’s home and facilitates the potential use of urgent therapies, such as clot dissolving treatment of stroke. This will allow many more patients to be treated sooner, giving patients the best chance of a good recovery. When a person suffers a stroke, every single second counts,” Professor Davis said.

Mobile Stroke Unit

The MSU will provide efficient and effective road transfer to the RMH for ongoing treatment, where patients will benefit from a seamless transition and connected care. CT scanner results from the ambulance will be instantly sent to the hospital thanks to the latest telehealth technology. The trial is a result of research carried out by the RMH, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and Ambulance Victoria.

About one in six people will suffer a stroke in their lifetime and it is the leading cause of disability in Australia. The Royal Melbourne’s Stroke Care Unit (SCU) treats more than 800 inpatients a year.

When 21-year-old medical student, Perry Lin spoke to his girlfriend on Facetime little did he know that the conversation would save his life. Each night, Perry would speak to Zoe, who was in Taiwan, via Facetime. However, on one particular night Zoe noticed that Perry looked different. “She mentioned that my face was drooping and I was speaking funny,” Perry said.

Perry was having a stroke. Thanks to Zoe, who called his friends in Melbourne to help, Perry was rushed to the RMH and underwent endovascular clot retrieval (ECR), to pull out the blood clot in his brain causing his stroke. The RMH is the only health service in Australia to offer this service 24/7. Perry expressed gratitude for the wonderful care he received at the RMH.

“I am so grateful to everyone at the RMH for everything they have done to help me.”

The trial is part of research led by the Royal Melbourne Hospital with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, the University of Melbourne and Ambulance Victoria. The ambulance set up was made possible by a generous donation from leading Melbourne business figures, the Stroke Foundation and the Royal Melbourne Hospital Neurosciences Foundation.

Professor Stephen Davis said “when time is brain, this specially equipped ambulance will mean stroke patients will have the specialist treatments they need much sooner.”