A successful trial that doubled the number of people able to recognise the main symptoms of stroke has led to a nationwide awareness campaign about the killer brain attack.

Stroke remains the third largest killer in New Zealand, after heart disease and cancer, with more than 2500 of the 9000 Kiwis who suffer one each year dying.

The Ministry of Health has announced it will fund the FAST campaign after it was successfully piloted in Waikato by the Stroke Foundation 18 months ago.

The foundation's chief executive, Mark Vivian, said the campaign, and its simple ways to recognise the symptom of stroke, was "a life saver".


The FAST acronym comprised Face: whether the sufferer's face was drooping on one side and whether they could smile; Arm: whether one arm was weak or they could raise both of them; Speech: whether their speech was jumbled or slurred, or if they could speak at all; and Time: that time was critical and people needed to phone 111 immediately.

An easily understood television package and an innovative radio strategy were at the heart of the two-month campaign, supported by promotion on websites and social media.

"We want every New Zealander to learn how to recognise any of the symptoms of stroke - and to ring 111 immediately," Mr Vivian said.

"A stroke is very serious - it's not something you make an appointment to see your GP about, or hope the symptoms go away."

There are presently an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand.

Up to half of all stroke cases could be treated with clot-busting drugs if they arrived within three hours of the stroke's onset at a hospital.

Dr Sarah Fowler, of the Waikato District Health Board, had followed the campaign in the region and observed an increase in patients and family recognising the FAST acronym - and even repeating it to her on their arrival at Waikato Hospital.

"Many of them proudly tell me, I knew I had to come quickly as I knew the signs and didn't want to miss out on my opportunity to get the best treatment in the fastest time."

Before the 2014 pilot campaign, just under two out of 10 people in the Waikato could identify three main signs of stroke.

But after six weeks of TV and other advertising of the FAST message, that number had reached almost four out of 10.

"Thanks to the continued improvement in stroke services in DHBs all over New Zealand more patients than ever can receive life-saving treatment if they get to hospital quickly enough," Mr Vivian said.

"There has never been a better time for a national FAST campaign and we are delighted to see it happen at last."

About 15 per cent of all stroke survivors are institutionalised and disabilities from stroke make it one of the highest consumers of hospital beds, services and community support in New Zealand.

Lifetime costs per stroke patient in New Zealand were estimated in 2009 at $73,600 a person, with a total cost to the country of over $450 million a year.

The FAST campaign

• The FAST message has been proven to identify 90 per cent of strokes

• The 30-second TV advert shown in the Waikato between October and November 2014 can be viewed here.

• The online aspect of the campaign surpassed industry standards with click-through rates from Facebook adverts nearly 5500 per cent higher than an average campaign.

• Traffic to www.stroke.org.nz increased well beyond normal during the campaign and Google analytics showed most of this traffic came from the Waikato area.