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September 15th 2017

Hospital Negligence

Hospitals must improve levels of screening and response to stop sepsis causing thousands of preventable deaths

Vince Shore

Vince Shore

Joint Head of Clinical Negligence, Hull

Hospitals must improve levels of screening and response to stop sepsis causing thousands of preventable deaths

Sepsis is now a bigger killer than any single form of cancer in the UK.

Sepsis is now a bigger killer than any single form of cancer in the UK.

It causes 44,000 deaths each year, mainly because those suffering from the disease often mistake its symptoms for more common illnesses.

That is perhaps understandable in those not medically trained, but it is shocking to learn how many hospital trusts are failing to meet treatment guidelines – leading to patients not being screened for the disease, and not being given treatment quickly enough when it is diagnosed.

Sepsis starts with an infection, sometimes from something as minor as a contaminated cut or insect bite.

It causes the body’s immune system to go into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting.

This can reduce blood supply to vital organs, starving them of oxygen, and if not treated quickly, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

It is a huge threat to life is now recognised by all involved in any form of health care, yet figures from 104 hospital trusts, seen by investigative BBC programme Panorama, has revealed concerning trends.

At Liverpool Heart and Chest Foundation NHS Trust, less than one in 10 patients who required screening actually received it during the 12 months to March 2017.

And even when hospitals identified the need for antibiotics, many failed to act quickly enough.

One in four failed to give antibiotics to half of patients recognised to have sepsis within the recommended time frame of an hour. At Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, only a quarter of patients who were identified as suffering from sepsis were given antibiotics within the recommended time.

Every hour in delay of treatment raises the risk of sepsis death

Although sepsis can affect people of any age, is most common in the elderly and the very young.

It is a killer condition which it seems is yet to be fully understood not only by general members of the public, but by hospitals up and down the country.

Every 3.5 seconds, someone dies from Sepsis. It is the biggest direct cause of deaths in pregnancy in the UK, and studies now show it affects 260,000 people a year – 100,000 more cases than have been previously estimated.

Sadly, we have handled a number of cases at Hudgell Solicitors where the treatment of sepsis has been too slow.

When investigating the circumstances around sepsis deaths, we instruct independent medical experts to assess the treatment provided, and in each case experts have highlighted how every hour of delay in treating patients with antibiotics raises the risk of death.

The Panorama figures show that one in five eligible patients are not currently being screened for signs of sepsis, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admits that the NHS now has “more to do” to stop “preventable” sepsis deaths occurring.

It is clear that despite the growing threat to lives, there are still many lessons to be learned about the need to identify symptoms early and take immediate action.

Breathlessness, confusion, extreme chills and shivering, muscle pain, fast breathing and heartbeats, feeling dizzy and faint and feverish are all possible early signs of sepsis

Loss of consciousness, mottled or discoloured skin, slurred speech and vomiting are also clear signs of danger.

Saying ‘there’s a long way to go’ seems a massive understatement from Mr Hunt.

With an estimated 14,000 preventable deaths every year in the UK, hospital trusts must make improving their care in this area a priority and quickly find much better ways of identifying and treating sepsis earlier.

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