Many stroke patients are being "let down" as they are being forced to wait for months on end for rehabilitation once they are sent home from hospital, experts have warned.
Some of the life-changing consequences of suffering a stroke, such as weakness or paralysis on one side of the body or problems with moving and performing everyday activities, can be helped with physiotherapy.
But new analysis of services in England shows that some patients are forced to wait for more than four months for physiotherapy once they are sent home from hospital, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said.
All patients receive intensive rehabilitation in the immediate aftermath of their stroke before they are discharged from hospital.
But a new audit of services, shared with the Press Association, shows that many patients face long delays in accessing care once they are sent home.
The CSP warned that waiting for long periods could potentially stall any progress a patient has made or even risks a deterioration in their condition.
The Stroke Association said the findings were "extremely concerning", as it urged health leaders to come up with a national strategy to improve stroke care for patients in England.
Just 86 out of the 177 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) which responded to Freedom of Information requests from the CSP offered an early supported discharge (ESD) service for stroke patients, or prioritised urgent need.
Almost all (97%) stroke patients in the 86 CCGs saw a physiotherapist within three days after leaving hospital.
But many patients served by the remaining CCGs, where no such service existed or they were considered non-urgent, saw lengthy delays in accessing care.
Just 15% of patients were able to access a community-based physiotherapist in less than a week.
Nearly half were seen in two to five weeks, while 19% were seen in six to nine weeks.
Fifteen per cent were forced to wait 13 weeks and 4% were seen after 18 weeks.
Every year, NHS staff across the UK treat 152,000 strokes.
The figures come after broadcaster Andrew Marr told the CSP's member magazine, Frontline, about his own physiotherapy after his stoke.
The presenter - who had a stroke in January 2013, spending two months in hospital and undergoing extensive physiotherapy to help him walk - told the magazine the amount of rehab post-hospital was "ludicrously short".
"People get a few weeks of physio when what they often need is a few years," he said.
"As a society, we are good at saving people's lives, but what we are not good at is providing care after that."
Catherine Pope, chair of council at the CSP, said: "The results of this audit are a stark reminder that too many patients are being let down once they leave hospital.
"Effective rehabilitation gives people back their independence, allowing them to return to work or simply to resume everyday activities.
"It is crucial that it is regular and timely in those early days and then on an ongoing, longer-term basis, it is important that patients can access that expert advice and support to help them manage their condition.
"The consequences of missing out on that care can be devastating so it is essential that greater attention is paid to ensuring the excellence seen in some areas is available to all."
Commenting on the findings, Dominic Brand, director of marketing and external affairs at the Stroke Association, said: "This latest audit from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is extremely concerning. Major strides have been made in the way stroke is treated in hospital; however it is clear that far too many stroke survivors are going without the right support to begin their rehabilitation.
"Stroke survivors regularly tell us that they have had to wait weeks - and in some cases months - for the support and therapy they need to rebuild their lives. For too many people, their support comes too late, it stops too soon, or they don't have access to all types of therapy they need.
"We are urging the Government to commit to a new national stroke strategy for England. It's the only way stroke survivors and their loved ones will continue to have the right support and care when they need it most."
An NHS England spokesman said: "NHS stroke care and stroke survival are now at record levels, and death rates from stroke are at their lowest levels ever, so the reason we have more opportunities for rehab is precisely because the quality of NHS treatment is better than ever.
"Higher survival means more need and opportunity to support people who've been successfully treated when they return home, and early supported discharge is now available in about 80% of areas."
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Nathan Clarke / CSP / PA Wire.