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New NICE guidance to medical staff to treat sepsis as a medical emergency

Posted: 20/07/2016

Last week the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) urged GPs and medical staff to treat suspected sepsis in patients as an emergency in the same way as heart attacks. 

The figures released by NHS England are stark. There are reported to be 60,000 estimated deaths from sepsis in the UK each year and Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that 12,000 sepsis deaths per year may be avoidable.

It is therefore clear that there needs to be greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and better training and education for medical staff on how to identify and quickly treat this potentially life-threatening condition. 

A training scheme is being relaunched at the Royal United Hospital in Bath on Monday 25th July to update staff on the recently published guidelines for sepsis. The ten minute teaching presentation aims to explain how to diagnose sepsis and to treat it within an hour. It also  highlights the six signs of sepsis: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Mottled or discoloured skin
  • Feeling “like I might die”

The BBC has also reported that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) strongly criticised the NHS investigation into the death from sepsis of three year old Sam Morrish. This was the second review by the Ombudsman after the first review found that there had been a catalogue of errors in the little boy’s care by GPs, hospital doctors and call handlers at NHS Direct.

The NHS Direct call handlers failed to categorise Sam’s mother’s call as urgent, despite indications that his vomit contained blood. After staff at the hospital in Devon finally realised Sam was critically ill, there was a three hour delay in giving him antibiotics which could have saved his life. The Ombudsman found that Sam’s death was avoidable.

This second review by the Ombudsman looked into the way in which the investigation into Sam’s death was handled by the NHS. The report found that a fundamental failure in the investigation was the trust’s unwillingness to accept any view other than its own initial view. NHS England has now urged staff to acknowledge when mistakes are made.

Emma Beeson, a lawyer in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, comments: “We welcome NICE’s advice and are happy to see the drive by the NHS to raise awareness of sepsis and enforce the message that sepsis is a medical emergency. We also welcome the relaunch of the training scheme and hope that trusts around the country will start to adopt similar training schemes and campaigns to help reduce the number of unavoidable deaths due to sepsis.

“I have dealt with numerous clinical negligence claims, including claims involving sepsis, where my client has had to resort to litigation because of the trust’s failings to acknowledge its mistakes and apologise. Clients often say that an apology and a recognition of the failings that took place is all that they want but this is unfortunately not forthcoming. 

“It is positive news that the Ombudsman is encouraging trusts to acknowledge mistakes and criticise those who have failed to ensure that any investigation is independent and impartial.” 

Should you, a friend or family member have any concerns regarding treatment received relating to sepsis, please contact our team on 0800 328 9545.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP