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NHS must 'step up' on sepsis

Thousands of people are still dying each year from sepsis because not enough improvements have been made by the NHS, according to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor. 

One year since the Time to Act report called for vast improvements following the deaths of patients from blood poisoning, the Ombudsman has urged greater improvement still. 

Recommendations in Time to Act included a need for improved recognition of sepsis through staff and public awareness campaigns, as well as improvements in treatment, auditing and research. This followed a finding of recurring shortcomings in the care and treatment of the condition. 

While some progress has been made, such as a patient safety alert to improve awareness among NHS staff, the Ombudsman says three things are needed that will go further in saving lives. 

These are:

 - A campaign to help people better recognise the signs of sepsis. 

 - Service changes including better training and education of NHS staff to speed up diagnosis and treatment.

 - Better data capture. 

“There needs to be a combined effort by the health sector to improve awareness, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis. We know that most lives are lost during the first few hours of arrival in hospital and so need quicker diagnosis and treatment or else thousands more lives will be lost unnecessarily through this devastating condition," Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said. 

“We welcome that parliament is using the insight from our report to hold NHS services to account to find out how quickly and effectively our recommendations are being acted upon. It means also that people who complain to us can see that their complaint can lead to change.”

Dr Ron Daniels, chair of the UK Sepsis Trust said: “The progress made over the last 12 months has been welcome. Today it brings us to the point of issuing five high level clinical toolkits providing a roadmap to better care, developed in partnership with Royal and specialist colleges.

"We will build upon this work in the coming year to address in particular the needs of children and pregnant mums, and will call for the establishment of commissioning levers, better education and recording of cases, and heightened public awareness.”

Sepsis accounts for 100,000 hospital admissions each year, with an average cost of about £20,000 each, according to the UK Sepsis Trust. Around 37,000 people are estimated to die of sepsis each year in the UK. 

The most common causes of severe sepsis are pneumonia, bowel perforation, urinary infection, and severe skin infections.  Sepsis is a more common reason for hospital admission than heart attack - and has a higher mortality.

Care failings seem to occur mainly in the first few hours after arriving in hospital when rapid diagnosis and simple treatment can be critical to the chances of survival.