Nearly 400 patients are being admitted to hospital everyday with the potentially life-threatening bacterial infection sepsis, according to new figures.
The Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) figures reveal there were 141,772 admissions for patients with sepsis recorded in 2014/15 – a 54 per cent increase from the 91,881 recorded in 2010/11.
Health experts blame the five-year surge on an ageing population, the increasing number of patients undergoing invasive surgery, and the rise in patients developing untreatable infections due to antibiotics resistance.
They also warn that the Government is failing to take urgent action to improve diagnosis, treatment and general awareness of sepsis amongst both health professionals and the public.
Sepsis occurs when the body’s immune response to a bacterial infection causes widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. It can set off a series of reactions that include a significant drop in blood pressure, meaning blood supply to vital organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys is reduced. If left untreated, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure, shock, and eventual death.
Known as the ‘silent killer’ sepsis can affect people of any age but is most prevalent in young children, the elderly, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women. Out of the more than 100,000 people admitted to hospital with sepsis every year in the UK, an estimated 37,000 will die as a result of the condition.
In January, a damning NHS England report found that the death of one-year-old William Mead in December 2014 could have been prevented had out-of-hours NHS helpline staff recognised the life-threatening seriousness of his condition at the time.
The report found that NHS 111 call handlers are unable to identify potentially fatal cases of sepsis because the NHS ‘Pathways’ system is not sensitive enough to recognise so-called ‘red flag’ symptoms such as a sudden dramatic drop in temperature.
The Department of Health has since announced that all GP surgeries in England will need to perform an audit of how well they identify and manage sepsis in a bid to reduce the thousands of deaths resulting from blood-borne infections every year.
It is crucial that the quality of sepsis care in the NHS is improved. Failure to detect or treat sepsis in time can lead to devastating consequences and, unfortunately, we are still seeing far too many cases of sepsis not being diagnosed or treated properly.
Like cancer, early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis by trained staff is paramount. There also needs to be much better awareness of warning signs such as a high temperature and a rapid heartbeat as by the time patients with sepsis see an intensive care consultant, it is often sadly too late.
Paul Sankey is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.