New figures from NHS England reveal the number of cases of sepsis has more than doubled over the past two years. Statistics reveal there were 350,344 cases of sepsis in 2017/18, compared to just 169,215 in 2015/16.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis can develop as a side-effect of an infection, sometimes due to ineffective treatment of the initial infection. It develops when the chemicals released by the immune system to fight an infection cause inflammation throughout the body. If sepsis is allowed to develop without effective treatment, the patient can go into septic shock and this can lead to long term injuries and sometimes death.
People can develop sepsis after all sorts of infections, including lung, bladder, skin, bone, heart and brain infections. It can also develop after surgery, and we often see cases where a patient has developed sepsis and septic shock as a result of a delay in diagnosing a bowel perforation during or after surgery. In those cases, the patient often develops intestinal failure and require a stoma.
The life-threatening blood poisoning condition is estimated to claim the lives of around 52,000 individuals in the UK a year.
Chief executive of UK Sepsis Trust, Dr Ron Daniels, recently warned that increasing resistance to antibiotics was ‘almost certainly’ contributing to the growing sepsis crisis:
'We know antimicrobial resistance is on the increase and we also know that more than 40 per cent of E.coli strains – the most common bug causing sepsis – are now resistant to our 'first-line' antibiotics.
'So you can imagine a situation where a patient with a urinary tract infection is treated by a GP with antibiotics, but if the infection is caused by a type of E.coli that is resistant, it becomes more prolonged and complicated, increasing the risk of sepsis developing.'
According to Dr Daniels there is a growing concern about bacteria that are resistant to the drugs, as well as a shortage of knowledge about how many sepsis cases involve such superbugs.
Dr Daniels said: 'Techniques for identifying the bugs responsible aren't that reliable.
'The reality is that patients often aren't even told that they've got sepsis, let alone what bugs caused it and whether or not that bug is resistant.'
He added the sharp increase in sepsis cases could also be due, in part, to a greater awareness of the condition and its symptoms, thanks to a growing amount of media coverage regarding the condition.
Dr Daniels also suggested that an aging population has attributed to the rise in sepsis cases, as the condition affects the elderly more so than any other demographic. NHS England figures show a 171% increase in the number of recorded cases of sepsis in people over 85 from 2015/16 to 2017/18.
Medical director for Clinical Effectiveness at NHS England, Celia Ingham Clark, said: 'The NHS has made huge improvements in spotting and treating sepsis quickly, with screening rates in emergency departments rising from 78 per cent in 2015 to 91 per cent in 2018.
'Each year NHS England assesses the performance of local health bodies on how well they raise sepsis awareness among healthcare professionals, and more than 60,000 NHS staff have completed Health Education England's learning modules on sepsis.'
Although it is worrying to see such a sharp rise in UK sepsis cases over such a short period of time, the number of cases reported will inevitably increase as awareness of this life-threatening condition greatens. Sepsis is now regularly reported in the media and this level of coverage is welcomed, with more and more of both the public and healthcare professionals becoming aware of the condition and its symptoms. It is also reassuring to hear that the NHS is making improvements in spotting and treating sepsis quickly, as it is vital the condition is treated early.
Sophie Birch is a Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Potter Rees Dolan. Should you have any queries regarding clinical negligence, serious injuries or indeed any other aspect of this article and wish to speak to Sophie, or any other member of the team, please contact us on 0161 237 5888 or email Sophie directly.