We were alarmed to read in the Times last week that twice as many people are now being admitted to hospital with sepsis than 3 years ago (according to recent figures released by the NHS).

Last year there were 350,344 admissions in which sepsis, which can quickly lead to organ failure and death, was given as the first or subsequent diagnosis. This compared with 169,125 three years earlier.

At least 52,000 people die every year in the UK from sepsis, and a quarter of survivors have long-term problems which greatly impact on their life.

Diagnosing sepsis – or septicemia as it also known in a matter of hours is essential to avoid long term damage, or in some cases death. Sepsis occurs when the body responds poorly to a bacterial infection and attacks its own tissue and organs.

We know from cases that we have handled in the past that spotting sepsis early is crucial. Once in hospital, the medical staff should use early warning scoring systems to make this diagnosis and to stop septicemia from developing.

If sepsis is caught in time and treated promptly, lasting damage can be avoided. NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence) have produced compulsory guidance to hospitals to assist medical staff. It is now important for staff to look for signs of sepsis in patients coming into A&E and to “red flag” cases where patients suspected of having this condition are not responding to treatment within one hour.

This guidance to hospitals is mandated in the NHS Standard Contract, which is enforced by clinical commissioning groups. Financial penalties can be imposed if Trusts fail to meet the terms of the contract.

The two main problems we encounter in practice are:-

  • A delay in diagnosing sepsis, and
  • A failure to treat it adequately following the diagnosis

These are complex cases and patients/their family who are unhappy with treatment should seek advice about a potential legal claim from a Law Society or an AvMA accredited solicitor.

You can contact the UK Sepsis Trust for advice and guidance. They also provide helpful information on how to spot sepsis in both adults and children.