SEPtember is Sepsis Awareness Month and World Sepsis Day is on 13 September. 

World Sepsis Day is marked each year on the same day with the hope that it will increase the international awareness of sepsis and ensure that sepsis is treated as a medical emergency.

Sepsis, also referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection or injury. According to the Sepsis Trust every year in the UK there are 150,000 cases of Sepsis, leading to 44,000 deaths – more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. A report published last year found there were delays in identifying sepsis in over a third of cases. This makes sepsis the UK’s second biggest killer.

The majority of cases are caused by pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections like cellulitis, infections in the abdomen (such as appendicitis), bone or heart infections and infections after surgery. Invasive medical procedures like the insertion of a catheter into a blood vessel can also introduce bacteria into the blood and trigger sepsis. If it is not spotted early and treated with antibiotics, it can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death.

Sepsis remains the primary cause of death from infection, despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, and intensive care. Although everyone is potentially at risk of developing sepsis from minor infections, some people are more vulnerable, such as those that:

  • are very young or old

  • are pregnant

  • have just undergone surgery

  • have certain addictive habits, such as alcohol or drugs

  • are prone to infections or

  • have a medical condition that weakens their immune system.

Common symptoms of sepsis are fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation. Many of these symptoms, such as fever and difficulty breathing, mimic other conditions, making sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages. Sepsis is diagnosed by examining the patient for fever, increased heart rate and increased respiratory rate. Often a blood test is performed to check whether the patient has an abnormal number of white blood cells, a common sign of sepsis; or an elevated lactate level, which correlates with severity of the condition. In addition, a chest X-ray or a CT scan can help identify the site of infection. Patients with severe sepsis typically require ICU treatment. It may include antibiotics to treat the infection, surgery to control the source of the infection, or organ support, such as artificial ventilation for the lungs.

Because sepsis can develop quickly and aggressively it is of paramount importance that medical staff are able to identify patients who potentially have sepsis. If not treated with urgency sepsis can be fatal or can permanently change one’s life causing patients to experience long term physical problems. Timely and properly provided treatment, however, can make all the difference and ensure full recovery with no lasting problems. In an interview early this year Prof Mark Baker from NICE told the BBC: “The problem with those patients who died unnecessarily of sepsis is that staff did not think about it soon enough.” The first guidelines on the illness published in July 2016 warn doctors that patients who show signs of sepsis should be treated with the same urgency as those with chest pains that could signify a heart attack.

Unfortunately not all cases of sepsis are diagnosed in the early stages. If you or a member of your family did not receive the appropriate level of care while in hospital, you could be eligible to pursue a claim for compensation. Common errors in providing sepsis care that can lead to clinical negligence claims result from:

  • Failure to recognise the symptoms of sepsis.

  • Delay in diagnosis of sepsis.

  • Failure to treat sepsis urgently.

  • Inappropriate care for those with sepsis.

  • Failure to consider the patient’s clinical history and immune status.

To speak to a solicitor about making a claim, please get in touch with us at Freeths LLP.