What are you looking for?

30 January 2018 | Comment | Article by Mark Lane

Sepsis negligence: a very real problem in the NHS

Sepsis negligence costs the NHS about £2 billion a year in England alone. The cost to the families it touches is much harder to quantify.

This serious medical emergency arises from the body’s response to an infection. If not treated promptly, it can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sepsis is a very real and serious medical complication that is prevalent in the UK. In 2015 the UK government reported that each year sepsis claims around 31,000 lives, of which around 1,000 were children under the age of 5.

Sepsis can be difficult to identify because many of the symptoms can mimic flu.  These symptoms can include:

  • Chills,
  • Fever,
  • Low body temperature,
  • Low blood pressure,
  • Light headiness,
  • Rapid heartbeat,
  • Shaking,
  • Skin rash and
  • Warm skin.

It is important that the medical professional reviewing a patient identifies any particular factors that render someone at an increased risk of sepsis.  This includes, among other things:

  • The very young (under 1 year),
  • Those over the age of 75,
  • Someone who is very frail,
  • Women who are pregnant, have given birth or had a termination of pregnancy or miscarriage in the past 6 weeks, and
  • People with any breach of skin integrity (for example, cuts, burns, blisters or skin infections).

Hospitals should have measures in place to allow early identification of a patient who could be suffering from sepsis. An early warning score should be used to assess people so as to identify any cases of suspected sepsis. If someone is suspected of suffering from sepsis then the hospital should have a sepsis care pathway that should be commenced without delay: A failure to do so may have catastrophic consequences.

Treatment for suspected sepsis comprises of 3 critical elements: (1) administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics (2) fluid resuscitation and (3) identifying and removing the source of infection. A patient should have their care escalated so that they can be closely monitored and the appropriate medical support can be given promptly.

Sadly, despite there being measures in place to identify and treat cases of suspected sepsis, the early opportunity to diagnose and treat this complication can be missed. By the time it is realised it can be too late to prevent irreversible injury or death.

It is unfortunate that, at Hugh James, we have seen many cases of sepsis negligence. In these cases, there have been missed opportunities which, had they been taken, would have led to a better outcome for the patient.

A bad case of sepsis can have a big impact on a family as they have to accommodate patients experiencing permanent medical complications or possibly even the death of a loved one. While no amount of compensation can turn back the clock, the financial support we have been able to secure for the victims and their families in these circumstances does begin to ease the burden they bear and help them begin to move on with their lives.

For more information visit the Medical Negligence page.

Author bio

Mark is a senior associate undertaking a variety of clinical negligence work relating to NHS, GP and private treatment. Having practised in medical negligence since qualifying, he has gained a great deal of experience in investigating and pursuing such matters.

Contact one of our experts

Fill in the form and one of our experts will get in touch with you shortly.