Sepsis deaths in English hospitals went up by more than a third in two years

Professor attributes rise in sepsis mortality to antibiotic resistance and greater awareness

Professor attributes rise in mortality rate to antibiotic resistance and hospital overcrowding

Kyran Bowes as Coronation Street character Jack Webster. Picture: Coronation St_ITV

Sepsis deaths recorded in hospitals in England increased by more than one third in two years.

The number of recorded deaths of which sepsis was the primary cause was 11,328 in 2014-15. By 2016-17, this had risen to 15,722 – an increase of 38.8%.

Sir Brian Jarman, who collated the data, said he does not think all the causes of the increase are known.

The Imperial College London professor said: ‘Part of it is antibiotic resistance. There may be a factor of increased overcrowding in hospitals, and bed occupancy.

‘And, if staff are very busy, it is difficult to pick up things. It is a difficult diagnosis and we have to be alert to pick it up.’

The former president of the British Medical Association added the number of beds available halved and the number of admissions doubled over the past 30 years, which he said is an ‘amazing change’ in healthcare provision.

High-profile cases

Several high-profile sepsis cases have put the condition in the headlines. These include the death of Reeta Saidha, whose waters broke when she was 15 weeks pregnant.

Ms Saidha had been told to wait 24-48 hours for a natural miscarriage. She developed sepsis when the foetus was not naturally expelled.

The issue was highlighted recently in the ITV soap Coronation Street when promising young footballer Jack Webster develops life-threatening blood poisoning after grazing his leg.

Early signs of sepsis are high or low body temperature, chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and fast breathing, according to the NHS.

Increased awareness

Professor Jarman said heightened awareness may have played a part in the rise in recorded deaths.

The data were taken from 134 acute non-specialist NHS trusts in England.

NHS England said the data do not prove the number of people dying from sepsis is increasing.

A spokesman said: ‘Over the past three years there has been huge effort across the NHS to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis.

‘This improved method of recording means some cases previously recorded as simple infections are now classified as sepsis.’

Professor Bryan Williams, chair of medicine at University College London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: ‘What is happening is an increased awareness and increased detection of sepsis, and a reduction in mortality in hospital and in the first 30 days after discharge.

‘It is important for the public to recognise that the NHS is taking this incredibly seriously. If you go to any hospital it is treated as one of the priorities and death rates are falling.’

Spotting the signs of sepsis 

Adults should seek medical help urgently if they experience:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • A feeling that they may die
  • Mottled or discoloured skin

A child over five years may have sepsis if he or she:

  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a ‘fit’ or convulsion
  • Looks mottled, bluish, or pale
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch

A child under five may have sepsis if he or she:

  • Is not feeding
  • Is vomiting repeatedly
  • Has not passed urine for 12 hours

Source: The UK Sepsis Trust


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