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Sepsis awareness: worrying statistics amidst rising case numbers

Posted: 15/04/2021

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Septic shock is one of the complications of sepsis and results in a significant drop in blood pressure that can lead to respiratory failure, heart failure, stroke and even death. The fifth edition of the Sepsis Trust’s manual has indicated that recorded incidences of sepsis are rising by approximately 11.5% per year. 

Whilst to some degree this annual rise is due to individuals and clinicians being more aware of sepsis, meaning more cases are reported, it is also due in part to an aging population and the fact that a higher number of invasive interventions (such as surgical procedures) are now taking place. These carry a risk of infection and therefore an associated risk of sepsis.

Key statistics

Below are some of the key statistics highlighted in the fifth edition of the Sepsis Trust’s manual, which illustrate just how serious the condition is and the impact it has on health services:

  • Around 5% of emergency hospital admissions are due to sepsis.
  • Sepsis is more common than heart attacks.
  • Sepsis claims more lives than lung cancer.
  • Sepsis causes a higher number of mortalities than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.
  • 22% of sepsis survivors who needed intensive care have post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 17% of sepsis survivors experience cognitive decline.
  • Sepsis costs the NHS more than asthma, with the estimated annual cost being between £1.5 and £2 billion per year.

Raising awareness

Given rising cases and the statistics mentioned above, it is more vital than ever that individuals continue to raise awareness of sepsis. Some key facts to understand about sepsis are set out below.

Risk factors

The following people are more at risk of developing sepsis:

  • children under one and adults over 75 years of age;
  • people who are very frail;
  • those with impaired immune systems;
  • pregnant women; and
  • women who have given birth or had a termination or miscarriage in the past six weeks.

Sepsis red flags

In 2015, the UK Sepsis Trust collaborated with NHS England and developed a list of ‘red flag’ symptoms to help clinicians diagnose and treat sepsis as quickly as possible. These red flags are:

  • new onset of confusion or altered mental state;
  • low blood pressure;
  • high temperature;
  • fast heart rate;
  • fast and shallow breathing;
  • non-blanching rash; and
  • not passing urine for 18 hours.

Treatment for sepsis

When someone is noted to have red flag symptoms of sepsis, the sepsis six treatment plan should be completed within one hour (whilst further tests are carried out to confirm/exclude a diagnosis of sepsis). The initial treatment plan consists of the following six steps:

  • give oxygen;
  • take bloods;
  • give IV antibiotics;
  • start IV fluids and resuscitation;
  • check lactate; and
  • monitor urine output.

Delays in diagnosis and treatment

As sepsis can progress quickly, delays in diagnosing and therefore treating sepsis can have significant consequences and in some cases can sadly result in limb amputation or death.

The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper seeks to spread awareness about sepsis but unfortunately, there are still instances of delayed diagnosis and/or delayed treatment. If you or a loved one have been impacted by sepsis and think there may have been a delay which led to a poor outcome, please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist sepsis solicitors for an informal discussion about your concerns.

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