The warning that the NHS must do more to detect sepsis has been welcomed by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust whose pioneering work on it has saved lives.
Last week a Health Ombudsman report highlighted ‘significant failings in the diagnosis and treatment of severe sepsis’ and talked of shortcomings in recognising when patients had the condition. Sepsis kills 37,000 people a year in Britain — more than breast and bowel cancer combined.
But steps the ombudsman said should be taken were pioneered by EEAST at the end of 2011 when they trialled new equipment and a sepsis checklist at West Suffolk and Luton and Dunstable Hospitals.
Tracy Nicholls, the trust’s acting head of quality and governance, said they were pleased the ombudsman had highlighted the problem.
“It’s a validation of our work,” she said. We know that simple things can save lives.
“We’re proud we were the forerunners as far as the ambulance services were concerned.
“We’ve been evangelising this with other services.”
Sepsis is where the immune system over-reacts to an infection and begins to attack the body, resulting in organ failure.
Ms Nicholls said: “Sepsis is a condition that kills people very quickly. Those that don’t die can suffer life changing conditions.”
That includes kidney failure and bad short term memory loss, making them unable to function in their normal social circles.
In the 2011 trial the trust, working with the Sepsis Trust, pioneered a checklist of symptoms, which include fever, breathlessness, muscle pain and high heart rate, and tried monitors which check lactate levels in the blood.
The monitors proved unable to cope with temperature fluctuations in ambulances, but the trust has shared information with another ambulance service which is testing another monitor.
But the checklist is still in use, enabling crews to start treatment in the ambulance and alert the hospital to be prepared for a sepsis case.
Ms Nicholl added: “20 minutes can be the difference between an organ failing and not failing.”
She also urged the public to become more aware of sepsis and call their GP or an ambulance if they suspect someone with a fever has it.
The Sepsis Trust uses the letters SEPSIS as a reminder: Slurred speech, Extremely painful muscles, Passing no urine, ‘I feel like I might die’ and Skin discoloured or mottled.
For more information visit the Sepsis Trust website