My chance to shape the future: transformation in stroke services

A physiotherapist in Northern Ireland is helping lead service transformation in stroke services.

The Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland is developing plans for public consultation over the coming months on a reconfiguration of stroke units. It is hoped that reshaping stroke services across the entire pathway will help save lives and reduce lifelong disabilities. 
Over the next year, around £2.5 million will be invested in stroke thrombectomy and community services to prepare the way for a stroke service in Northern Ireland that is truly fit for the future.
This is the context for the new and exciting work I am now undertaking, and here’s how I came to be appointed to the role.
With the backing of South Eastern Trust, I was recently supported in undertaking a master’s degree at Queen’s University Belfast. 
As a result, I was encouraged to apply for leadership roles, mainly for the experience of going through the interview process. 
But I was delighted to be offered a post in the Health and Social Care Board’s commissioning department to set up a stroke clinical network in Northern Ireland. 
Soon after, and while applying the physiotherapy skills of analysis and problem-solving, and from evaluating evidence from reforms to stroke care in London, it became clear that services in Northern Ireland were not configured in the most effective way.
In collaboration with clinical colleagues across trusts and in the Public Health Agency, together we developed a compelling case for change. 
This culminated in stroke reform featuring in a key transformation document published by the Northern Ireland Department of Health and titled Health and Wellbeing 2026 – Delivering Together.
Almost daily, someone asks whether I miss physiotherapy. ‘Don’t you miss clinical care?’ they say.  And it’s true that I miss some aspects. 
Looking back on my decision to leave a clinical post to go and work exclusively on service improvement and transformation – a role that was not particularly related to physiotherapy – I remember how challenging it was at first. 
But I soon realised that I just needed to keep doing what I enjoyed doing as a physio – solving problems and analysing information, communicating with people, thinking about the patients throughout, and dealing with people with integrity. 
The role I am in now may not have such an immediate impact on individuals but I am motivated by my belief that what I am doing has the potential to change many people’s lives.
  • Emer Hopkins is co-ordinator, Northern Ireland Stroke Network

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