Guidance on Medical Negligence in the Treatment of Sepsis
26 July 2019
There have recently been reports in the media of failings within the UK's healthcare system in the diagnosis and treatment of sepsis. This article explains what sepsis is, how it's treated and what to do if you or a loved one has received negligent medical treatment of sepsis.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis, also commonly known as blood poisoning, is a serious medical condition which causes a person's immune system to attack their own organs. The condition is caused by specific, harmful microorganisms which are present either in the bloodstream or in tissues. These microorganisms will be present because of an infection in the body, which could be anything from a chest infection to a contaminated cut.
Sepsis occurs when the immune system overreacts to the presence of these microorganisms. This overreaction causes the immune system to attack the body and its organs. If sepsis goes untreated, it can result in organ failure, shock and even death.
According to the Sepsis Trust, there are around 250,000 cases of sepsis in the UK every year, resulting in 50,000 fatalities.
How Should Hospitals be Treating Sepsis?
Sepsis can be treated with antibiotics, but time is of the essence. If the condition is not diagnosed in time or is not treated quickly enough, then this is when septic shock and organ failure can occur, with potentially fatal consequences.
If a patient has a suspected case of sepsis, then hospital staff should place them on an antibiotic drip within an hour. This timeframe is key to increasing the chances of the patient's survival. Any delays increase the risk of sepsis taking hold, and each hour increases the chances of the patient dying from the condition.
Are Hospitals Meeting the One Hour Deadline?
Some of the symptoms presented by sepsis are similar to flu and other illnesses. There's currently no specific test that can be carried out for sepsis, although there is a checklist of symptoms to help medical staff spot the signs early on. As a result, the condition is commonly misdiagnosed or diagnosis is delayed until sepsis has progressed to a severe stage. Another issue is that once sepsis is suspected, there are often delays in the administration of antibiotics.
Research recently carried out by BBC News looked at data relating to sepsis patients across England. Their research found that almost a quarter of sepsis patients in England were not put on an antibiotic drip within an hour of sepsis being suspected. In Wales, almost 30% of A&E patients waited more than an hour, along with 17% of hospital patients.
The research found that there was a significant variation between different hospital trusts. Over half of patients in some hospitals were facing delays in sepsis diagnosis while those in other hospitals were being treated far more quickly.
There are calls from campaign groups and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to raise awareness of the condition. They are calling for the NHS to introduce mandatory training for all health workers along with a checklist of how to spot signs of sepsis in children (a checklist already exists for adults). There is a feeling that currently many medical staff simply don't know enough about sepsis or how to spot the early symptoms.
As it currently stands, hospitals are being left to develop their own approaches to sepsis treatment, which has led to inconsistency across different hospital trusts.
Hospital Failures in the Treatment of Sepsis
If sepsis isn't treated quickly enough, then patients can be left with life-changing or fatal consequences. If there is a delay to the diagnosis or treatment of sepsis, then this may constitute medical negligence and the patient or their family could be entitled to make a Medical Negligence Claim for compensation against those responsible.
If you or a loved one have received what you believe to be negligent medical treatment of sepsis, our specialist Medical Negligence Solicitors can provide advice and guidance, talk you through your options and assess your medical negligence case for free. If you instruct us to take on your NHS medical negligence claim then we will support you throughout the claims process, usually on a no win no fee basis, providing you with representation and negotiating a settlement on your behalf.
If a death caused by sepsis (or is suspected to have been caused by sepsis) is referred to the coroner, they may decide to hold an inquest into the death. Our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors can also support you through this process as part of the claim, liaising with the coroner, examining all relevant documentation and representing you at the inquest hearing if there is one.