Sepsis - the silent killer in our hospitals

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By Oliviah Rix-Taylor

on Tuesday 25 September 2018

hospital sepsis claims

According to data collected by a leading safety expert, sepsis related deaths recorded in English hospitals have risen by more than a third in two years.

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection, which can lead to multiple organ failure (and ultimately death) if not diagnosed and treated quickly.

There were 15,722 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge from hospital caused by sepsis, in the year ending in April 2017. Sepsis is widely becoming more recognized for the serious threat that it poses to the public.

So given that the threat of sepsis is readily recognized, why is the figure still rising? Professor Brian Jarman believes that hospital staff shortages and overcrowding on wards are partly to blame. The UK is widely aware of the ‘NHS crisis’ plastered all over the media, yet should we be focusing more resources on reducing this killer threat?

The NHS has attempted to focus on screening for sepsis in the last few years, led by the UK Sepsis Trust. The Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, Dr Ron Daniels, has said that sepsis was one of the most common causes of death in the UK, and was responsible for killing up to 44,000 people a year.

Dr Daniels added that "For every hour we delay in giving antibiotics, the patient's risk of dying increases by a few per cent, so it's essential that we spot it early and deliver the basics of care quickly."

If sepsis is caught early enough, it involves basic intervention in the form of looking for the source of infection, and providing antibiotics.

With information relating to sepsis (and sepsis related deaths) becoming ever more apparent, should the NHS be considered negligent for failing to diagnose (or even test) for sepsis in patients?

Medical negligence claims are common for doctors failing to diagnose conditions, or failing to adequately treat certain conditions. If someone attends hospital showing signs of sepsis, Doctors have a duty of care to consider the possibility of sepsis. A hospital could be considered negligent for not considering sepsis quick enough, given the urgent need for swift treatment of this condition.

A spokesperson from the NHS in England told the BBC that there has been ‘a huge effort over the past three years to increase clinical recognition of, and recording of, sepsis’. Whilst this may be the case, many people are still being failed by the NHS, and families are being destroyed by sepsis.

Increased public awareness of sepsis is required, in order to protect people from this deadly condition. If you or a family member or friend are showing symptoms of sepsis, go straight to A&E or call 999 and insist that your concerns are dealt with appropriately.

Alternatively, if you or someone you know has been wrongly diagnosed with a different condition, or sepsis was wrongly not considered/ruled out, then you may have a personal injury claim for medical negligence.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection.

Sepsis starts with an infection (that can come from anywhere- even a cut or bite). Normally a person’s immune system would fight the infection and stop it spreading. However, if the infection spreads quickly, the immune system can essentially go into overdrive, launching a massive response to fight it.

This can have catastrophic effects on the body, leading to septic shock, organ failure, and even death.

Who is at risk?

There are around 250,000 cases of sepsis a year according to the UK Sepsis Trust. People most at risk include:

  • People with a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system

  • People in hospital

  • People who have had surgery or have wounds/injuries from an accident

  • The very young or very old/elderly

Symptoms of sepsis

The following list of symptoms is not exhaustive, however symptoms in older children or adults can include:

  • Chills and shivering

  • Fast breathing

  • Slurred speech

  • Discoloured/mottled skin

  • Passing no urine in a day

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Severe muscle pain

Symptoms in young children can include:

  • Being abnormally cold to touch

  • Mottled, bluish or pale skin

  • Lethargic or difficult to wake

  • Fast breathing

  • Rash that doesn’t fade when pressed

  • Fit or convulsion

  • High temperature

  • Low temperature

  • Not urinating for 12 hours

  • Cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything

These symptoms are not exhaustive and someone will likely not display all of the above symptoms. If you have any concerns, you should call 999 or NHS 111 immediately and seek advice. Trust your instincts, and if you think sepsis may be a possibility, insist that this concern is dealt with quickly.

Whilst the NHS may be failing the public in diagnosing and treating this condition, making people aware of the symptoms can help prevent people dying from sepsis. Share this article, and possibly save a life.

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