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Home » Latest News » What is Sepsis

What is Sepsis

What is Sepsis

September is Sepsis Awareness Month. As a firm we often face cases involving sepsis (also known as blood poisoning). Sepsis is a serious reaction to infection in the body and if left untreated can result in septic shock and is a leading cause of serious illness and fatality in the world.

The UK Sepsis Trust confirm that at least 48,000 deaths a year in the UK are related to sepsis and an overwhelming 245,000 people are affected by the illness in any standard year.   Sadly this number will be much greater with the current health pandemic.  

BE ALERT!

Anyone can develop sepsis but the following people are more vulnerable:

babies younger than 1 year

people over 75

people who are frail

people with diabetes

people with weak immune systems

people who are having chemotherapy treatment

women who have just given birth or recently been pregnant (including those who have had a miscarriage or abortion)

people who have recently had surgery

people who have recently had a serious illness.

SIGNS OF SEPSIS


Sepsis can develop from any form of infection.   Some key symptoms to look out for:

Slurred speech or confusion

Extreme shivering or muscle pains

Passing no urine in one day

Severe breathlessness

It feels like you are going to die

Skin is mottled or discoloured

A child may also exhibit signs by having a fit, developing a rash, not feeding and/or feeling abnormally cold.  

An infection is treated with antibiotics but if sepsis is present it requires more controlled medication and usually antibiotics will be given directly into a vein through a drip and certainly within an hour of diagnosis of suspected sepsis. Urgent hospital care is therefore required. 

If septic shock is present the patient will usually require treatment in the critical care ward.

WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN THINGS GO WRONG?

Nicola Evans, a Partner in our medical negligence team has a wealth of experience in relation to sepsis cases and sadly, experience of delays in medical treatment resulting in lifelong disabilities or death which could have been prevented.

One such case involved a lady with a previous history of rheumatoid arthritis which compromised her mobility.  She was frail, had a compromised immune system and completely fitted the description of someone who was vulnerable to sepsis. 

The lady went to see her GP with significant back and loin pain and a sore, swollen toe.   Her GP prescribed antibiotics for infection.   Five days later she returned complaining of a swollen foot and black toe.   Treatment provided was incorrect.   This lady should have been sent to hospital for further management but instead a district nurse was arranged for dressings to the toe.   Her foot swelled and the pain increased.   Cellulitis was diagnosed two days later, and her antibiotics were changed but at no stage did the treating medical staff consider escalating her care to hospital. 

After eight days from the commencement of her antibiotics things were no better and arrangements were made for her to be admitted to a local community hospital in Louth.   Three hours after being admitted intravenous antibiotics were given as her blood tests revealed infection markers were dangerously high.  

Two days after admission she was finally diagnosed with severe cellulitis/sepsis and tissue death on her toe and sadly continued to endure significant pain despite the medication provided.   Her condition deteriorated to the extent that she was vomiting dark green bile.  A decision was made to transfer her to Lincoln Hospital which resulted in a further delay in the provision of urgent treatment. 

Her medical records painted a grave picture.   At this stage her heart rate was 170 (normal ranges from 60 to 100) and she had high blood pressure.   She was cold and her blood supply was shutting down. She was diagnosed with “Severe sepsis and multi organ failure secondary to gangrene of foot…” with a high risk of death.

Due to her deteriorating condition she was transferred for intensive care treatment.   In a bid to save her life the staff at Lincoln made the decision to amputate her toe but sadly this was too late and she died a day later (two weeks from the commencement of her symptoms).   

Expert evidence was obtained as part of the claim which confirmed that the lady was at increased risk of sepsis and should have received an urgent referral to hospital for intensive management at the outset.   That treatment would have been effective and reduced the risk of her passing away as a result of sepsis.   It was also discovered that the referral to a local community hospital was a bad choice and that the patient should have been sent to the larger hospital from the outset.  

These allegations were put to the doctors who treated her initially and they admitted that there was a delay in diagnosis of septicaemia/septic shock and that had they considered her condition in more detail this would have led to appreciating the severity of the sepsis.  It was admitted that if she had been transferred earlier she would have received full intensive therapy and her death could have been prevented. 

Whilst a financial settlement was received for the bereaved husband no amount of money will bring back his beloved wife and the memories of those last painful days will never leave him.  

It is hoped that by highlighting this case to the doctors concerned the same mistake will not be made by them and lives can be saved.