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Vigilance against sepsis affected by pandemic, charity warns

UK Sepsis Trust says swift sepsis diagnosis and treatment has been hampered by the crisis, and calls for improved training for nurses and healthcare staff
Picture of a nursing checking a sepsis screening tool

UK Sepsis Trust says swift sepsis diagnosis and treatment has been hampered by the crisis, and calls for improved training for nurses and healthcare staff

The COVID-19 pandemic may have had an impact on the vigilance of professionals around sepsis, according to a charity that is backing calls for improved training for nurses and healthcare staff.

The warning comes as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PSHO) repeated an appeal for more training for healthcare staff following the death of a patient that ‘could so easily have been avoided’.

UK Sepsis Trust executive director Ron Daniels said there were fears that swift sepsis diagnosis and treatment had been hampered by the crisis.

    UK Sepsis Trust says swift sepsis diagnosis and treatment has been hampered by the crisis, and calls for improved training for nurses and healthcare staff

    Picture of a nursing checking a sepsis screening tool
    Picture: Tim George

    The COVID-19 pandemic may have had an impact on the vigilance of professionals around sepsis, according to a charity that is backing calls for improved training for nurses and healthcare staff.

    The warning comes as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PSHO) repeated an appeal for more training for healthcare staff following the death of a patient that ‘could so easily have been avoided’.

    UK Sepsis Trust executive director Ron Daniels said there were fears that swift sepsis diagnosis and treatment had been hampered by the crisis.

    ‘With the NHS reeling from the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are gravely concerned about its unintended impact on pathways, reliability of clinical systems and vigilance of health professionals around other common and deadly conditions, especially sepsis,’ Dr Daniels told Nursing Standard.

    ‘We welcome the call for further training of health professionals with a particular view to empowering nurses – the eyes and the ears of the NHS – to advocate for their patients.’

    He said the charity was committed to working with others to improve training for nurses and nursing students.

    Ombudsman says NHS trusts must do more to ensure that staff are aware of sepsis signs and symptoms

    His comments follow the publication of the PHSO’s investigation into the death of Stephen Durkin, which concluded he died after staff at Wye Valley NHS Trust failed to diagnose and treat sepsis quickly enough. The ombudsman said the case showed NHS trusts must do more to ensure that staff are aware of the signs and symptoms of the life-threatening condition.

    Mr Durkin, an otherwise healthy 56-year-old, was admitted to the County Hospital in Hereford in July 2017 with a suspected pulmonary embolism.

    Nursing and medical staff found he had a National Early Warning Score (NEWS) of seven. This should have prompted an assessment by a critical care team but it did not happen.

    Staff also failed to monitor Mr Durkin more closely as his condition deteriorated and by the time he was admitted to intensive care he had a NEWS score of nine. He died of severe multiple organ failure caused by sepsis.

    • What is the National Early Warning Score (NEWS)?

    The National Early Warning Score (NEWS) is a tool used to identify and respond to critically ill patients.

    It uses six physiological parameters to score patients – a score of 7 or more requires an urgent or emergency response.

    Nurses generally compile scores and decide whether or not to escalate.

    Ombudsman Rob Behrens said there was clearly more that the NHS needed to do.

    The case mirrors another recent investigation by the ombudsman which found that a 26-year-old woman died after sepsis was not identified and treated quickly enough, and national guidelines were not followed.

    Staff at Wye Valley NHS Trust have been given extra training in sepsis management and it has seen a ‘considerable reduction’ in sepsis-related deaths.

    Trust chief medical officer David Mowbray said: ‘The trust swiftly improved training and monitoring to prevent deaths from sepsis wherever possible.’

    What is sepsis?

    Sepsis is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. It kills around 48,000 people a year in the UK.

    Sepsis symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions. In adults, these include:

    • Acting confused
    • Slurred speech or not making sense
    • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
    • A non-blanching rash
    • Difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing fast

    RCNi Sepsis resource collection


    Find out more


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