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Sepsis: lack of funding for vital health services must not deter parents from seeking help

Clearly, the NHS is at breaking point from historic underfunding and, in desperation, the Government is looking at ways to reduce spending on vital services. The Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently described this is theĀ "the worst winter ever" as GPs and hospitals struggle to manage demand.

The latest money-saving target, about to be presented to the public via a TV advert and social media campaign from NHS England, is parents of under-fives who take their children to their GP or A&E departments in hospitals. 

Parents are now being asked instead to visit their local pharmacy for illnesses such as coughs, colds and tummy bugs and ailments associated with teething.

The Government reckons that treating such conditions at home would drastically reduce the 18 million GP appointments every year and the 2.1 million visits to A&E, potentially saving £850milllion annually.

These figures must be seductive to a Treasury desperately trying to make savings but, as yet, pharmacists in the UK are not permitted to prescribe drugs and are effectively being asked to diagnose a child without necessarily even seeing them.

This rings so many alarm bells. Children get ill very quickly and, it's true, can recover just as quickly. But it takes a lot of medical experience to distinguish between a rash caused by teething, say, and the much more serious symptoms of meningitis, scarlet fever and, of course, sepsis.

Sepsis hit the headlines again last week following the tragic death of 18-year-old Melissa Whiteley. Her parents had followed NHS advice to not take a person suffering with flu-like symptoms to the GP or hospital. Sadly, as a result of heeding the advice, Melissa was admitted into A&E too late to save her. She was suffering from sepsis, flu and pneumonia and died when she finally did go to hospital. Her parents are now urging people to seek help if they are concerned.

Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust charity, has also expressed his concern in the press about the latest NHS campaign to save money, which neglects to remind parents about the dangers of sepsis.

He said: “We welcome NHS England’s sensible guidance but this should have been caveated. If a child has symptoms of infection but the parents are concerned and suspect their child might be more seriously unwell, it’s important that they are encouraged to trust their instincts. Parents with a child who seems unusually ill should call 111, check sepsis symptoms online and follow advice accordingly.”

According to the charity, there are around 150,000 cases of sepsis each year, of which 30 per cent prove fatal – that's around 44,000 deaths. If a patient is diagnosed and treated in the first hour following presentation, however, survival rate is more than 80 per cent. This plummets to 30 per cent after six hours without treatment.

People's rightful concern about the crisis affecting the health service must not be allowed to endanger lives, as in the case of Melissa Whiteley. Funding is about balancing the books but no-one can ever put a price on the agony now suffered by her family.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition that can occur when the body responds to an infection. Fighting the infection can cause the immune system to go into overdrive, resulting in inflammation throughout the body and damage to organs and tissues.

Sepsis can be triggered by any infection, but most commonly occurs in response to bacterial infections of the lungs, urinary tract, abdominal organs or skin and soft tissues. Caught early, outcomes are excellent. Left unchecked, the patient is likely to spiral to multi-organ failure, septic shock and death.

The Trust includes the following red flags for medical practitioners:

  • Patient responds only to voice or pain/unresponsive
  • Acutely confused
  • Systolic B.P ≤ 90 mmHg (or drop > 40 from normal)
  • Heart rate > 130 per minute
  • Respiratory rate ≥ 25 per minute
  • Needs oxygen to keep SpO2 ≥ 92%
  • Non-blanching rash, mottled/ashen/cyanotic
  • Not passed urine in last 18 h / urine output <0.5 ml/kg /hr

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