Suspected sepsis in patients must be treated as an emergency in the same way as heart attacks

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Posted 14/07/2016 By: Amanda Cavanagh

Suspected sepsis in patients must be treated as an emergency in the same way as heart attacks are, England’s health watchdog says. 

National Institute of Health and Care Excellence guidance urges medics to consider sepsis early on when treating any patients unwell with infections. The problem, caused when the body’s immune system overreacts to infection, leads to 44,000 UK deaths a year.

However, experts estimate between 5,000 and 13,000 could be avoided. 

Initial symptom of Sepsis such as a rapid breathing or feeling generally unwell can be vague, making it difficult to set apart from other conditions, however it can lead to severe organ failure, shock and death if not treated early enough.

‘Complicated medicine’

In its first guidance on the issue, NICE acknowledges it is a complex medical problem. 

But the health watchdog says GPs, paramedics and hospital staff must make “Could this be sepsis?” the first consideration for anyone unwell with an infection – in much the same way that medics consider the possibility of a heart attack for patients with chest pain. 

Prof Mark Baker, from NICE said “The problem with those patients who died unnecessarily of sepsis is that staff did not think about it soon enough.”

“It requires a depth of thought and experience and a way of examining patients which isn’t always there, particularly because of time pressures and partly because we have got used to implementing guidelines without thinking.”

Cornwall mother Melissa Mead, whose one-year-old son William died from sepsis in 2014 after potential signs of the condition were missed by NHS 111 staff and GPs, welcomed the move and says new guidance could have saved his life.

Amanda Cavanagh a trainee legal executive at Ashtons Legal comments as follows: “Awareness and education regarding sepsis cannot come soon enough in relation to this terrible infection which is indiscriminate against young, old, healthy and sick alike. Clinicians must start asking the question “could this be sepsis” and in turn this could prevent further loss of lives”.


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