Sepsis – the forgotten killer?

Sepsis – the forgotten killer?

Statistics suggest that every year there are about 150,000 cases of sepsis in the UK and 44,000 deaths. This compares with 73,000 deaths in the UK each year from coronary heart disease.

Sepsis, also referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a potentially life threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury.

Symptoms of Sepsis may include:-

• a high temperature (fever) or low body temperature;
• chills and shivering;
• a fast heart beat; and
• fast breathing.

Symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) include:-

• feeling dizzy or faint;
• a change in mental state, such as confusion or disorientation;
• diarrhoea;
• nausea and vomiting;
• slurred speech;
• severe muscle pain;
• severe breathlessness;
• less urine production than normal;
• cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin; and
• loss of consciousness.

Unless treated quickly the condition can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Having regard to the seriousness of the condition the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has declared that doctors and other health professionals should treat people with symptoms of sepsis with the same urgency as those suspected of suffering a heart attack.

In its guidance NICE has called for the possibility of sepsis to be considered in all patients who have an infection. GPs should now send any patient suspected of having sepsis to hospital in an ambulance where they can be seen immediately by a senior doctor or nurse and appropriate treatment commenced.

People who are most at risk of sepsis include those:-

• with a medical condition or receiving treatment that weakens their immune system;
• who are already in hospital with a serious illness;
• who are very young or very old;
• who have just had surgery or have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident.

Fortunately up to 80% of patients survive sepsis with a course of antibiotics and sometimes a short stay in hospital. However, for some the outcome is not so good and this often results in a legacy of long-term, life-changing consequences which affect not just their own lives but also those caring for them. Tragically in some cases the condition can result in the sudden death of a loved one with those left behind forced to pick up the pieces.

If medical accidents are to be avoided early detection is key. At BLB we often see cases where GPs and hospital doctors have failed to listen to the concerns of patients and their families or not taken a proper history of the problem. These failings can result in an incorrect or delayed diagnosis being made and in such circumstances it may be appropriate to make a formal complaint about the treatment provided, perhaps with the help of the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS).

In addition to wanting answers and assurances that lessons have been learnt it may be appropriate to claim compensation as a means of providing you or your loved one with financial support in relation to, for example, ongoing care and rehabilitation needs and the loss of employment. In the first instance this would involve applying for copies of the relevant medical records and then seeking advice from an independent medico-legal expert on whether the medical treatment provided fell below an acceptable and reasonable standard. Such investigations can be carried out even if the treatment is ongoing because those caring for you or your loved one have a continuing duty of care to provide the best treatment and support.

If you would like to discuss a case of sepsis please call David Gazzard on 01793 615011.