Minor stroke sufferers in higher-risk groups will receive an MRI scan within 24 hours, under plans to revolutionise stroke services unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Johnson.
The government has committed central funds totalling £105m to provide national support for improving stroke services.
The strategy aims to accelerate the emergency response to stroke, by setting out a framework for care for those affected by stroke and raising awareness about symptoms and risk factors.
The Department of Health believes that, by following the actions set out in the strategy, up to 6,800 deaths and cases of disability could be avoided every year. A further 1,600 strokes could be averted through preventative work.
It also claims that early scanning of higher-risk minor stroke sufferers could mean an 80% reduction in the number of people who go on to have a full stroke. Currently, less than 35% of providers manage to treat minor strokes within seven days.
The plans also involve the immediate transfer of those with suspected stroke to a specialist centrem and those with stroke requiring urgent brain imaging are to be scanned within the next scan slot during normal working hours, and within 60mins out-of-hours.
Alan Johnson said: "Stroke is the third biggest killer in England, with 50,000 people dying from it each year. It also has a devastating and lasting impact on the lives of those who do survive, with a third left with long-term disability.
"Despite the considerable gains in developing stroke units and falling mortality rates, there remains much to be done to bring stroke services in line with those for cancer and heart disease. Now is the time to close that gap. We can and we must now give stroke the attention it deserves. Saving thousands of lives is a prize too great to ignore."
Professor Roger Boyle, National Clinical Director for Stroke and Heart Disease, said: "Prevention is better than cure. That is why raising awareness of how to prevent stroke through healthy living is at the heart of the strategy.
"We also need the public and health and social care professionals to recognise stroke symptoms more effectively. There is only a three-hour window for the use of clot-busting drugs. This means acting fast. Treating stroke as an emergency will save lives."