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New guidelines to prevent unnecessary deaths caused by sepsis

A recent article in the Times highlights that every year in Britain sepsis causes 44,000 deaths – a death toll higher than from bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Infections occur for many reasons, from an everyday small wound to complications after major surgery. If the infection is not treated effectively, it can develop and cause sepsis or septicaemia which then affects the entire body and vital organs. Ultimately, sepsis can result in multi-organ failure and death.

Delay in diagnosis

Unfortunately, at Fieldfisher we frequently see cases of patients who have suffered severe sepsis because of delays in diagnosis and treatment of infections. One such case involves the failure to administer antibiotics and a delay in diagnosing sepsis and treating infected muscle following childbirth. Sadly, a young mother has been left with severe pain, mobility difficulties and psychiatric problems, unable to care for herself and her children.

Another current case concerns failures in treating an incarcerated hernia which led to severe abdominal infection. Delays in diagnosing and treating the infected collections in the abdomen, meant the patient had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a section of the bowel. Further complications and multiple operations followed, leaving the patient with severe abdominal disfigurement, permanent pain and altered bowel habit, mobility difficulties and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Even common surgeries such as treating appendicitis can result in infection and sepsis. I have a case involving a patient who had bleeding into the abdomen following laparoscopic surgery to remove an infected appendix. Failure to diagnose and treat blood in the abdomen, meant the blood became infected, making the patient very ill and eventually resulting in gynaecological complications.

Sepsis can occur outside a hospital setting or even when a patient receives good medical care, but a significant number of patients suffer unnecessary complications and injury because of substandard medical care. Treating patients who develop severe sepsis is expensive to the NHS and is a concern to regulating bodies..

NICE guidelines

In July 2016, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated its guidelines on management of sepsis. The guidelines, which should be followed by every NHS hospital in the UK, outline that doctors and nurses should regard sepsis or suspected sepsis as a medical emergency and initiate investigations and treatment without delay.

Hopefully, the new guidelines will prevent thousands of cases of suffering, severe injury and avoidable death.

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