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NHS staff told to treat sepsis patients within an hour

Credit: PA

NHS staff must treat patients suspected of suffering from life-threatening sepsis within an hour to reduce the number of avoidable deaths, a watchdog has said.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said those showing symptoms of the illness must be reviewed by a senior doctor and given the antibiotics needed.

The move comes after previous guidance from Nice which says sepsis should be treated as an emergency in the same way as heart attacks.

The new measures state people with suspected sepsis and showing at least one sign of being at high risk - such as rapid breathing, high heart rate, confusion, rash or ashen appearance - need immediate treatment.

Health professionals including GPs, paramedics and A&E staff are to record vital signs like temperature and heart rate, as well as checking for rashes and skin discolouration on those at risk.

If it will take more than an hour to get a high-risk patient to hospital, antibiotics can be given in GP practices or by ambulance staff.

In 2015 a report by the National Confidential Enquiry Into Patient Outcome And Death highlighted that 40% of people admitted to A&E with sepsis did not have a timely review by a senior clinician.

It also reported avoidable delays in administering antibiotics in almost a third (29%) of cases.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Every death from sepsis is a tragedy, yet too often the warning signs are missed.

"We need to get far better at spotting sepsis across the NHS and this advice shows how vital it is for clinicians to treat life-threatening symptoms as soon as possible."

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight an infection.

The condition hit the headlines following the death of 12-month-old William Mead in December 2014.

William Mead died after NHS doctors failed to spot his symptoms of sepsis. Credit: SWNS

NHS doctors repeatedly failed to spot he had sepsis, while workers on the 111 helpline mishandled a call from his mother Melissa.

Mrs Mead said: "I am delighted that all clinical organisations are coming together to improve care for suspected and confirmed sepsis.

"With over 70% of sepsis cases coming from the community, the guideline for GPs and paramedics to deliver potentially lifesaving antibiotics en route to the hospital is key to treating sepsis early.

"The speed in which sepsis takes over the body - 36 hours in William's case - is frightening."

Nice deputy chief executive Professor Gillian Leng said: "We know from recent case reviews that there are inconsistencies in how people's symptoms are assessed in different settings. More can be done to provide rapid treatment."

A recent study from the York Health Economics Consortium suggests 260,000 people in the UK develop sepsis every year - 110,000 higher than previous estimates.

Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include:

  • high temperature (fever)
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

Symptoms of more severe sepsis can include:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • confusion or disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • not passing water for prolonged periods
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin