Medics Petition Government to make Sepsis a Clinical Priority

The UK Sepsis Trust is petitioning the government to make sepsis a clinical priority by establishing it as a medical emergency. It believes this will save 10,000 of the 37,000 deaths caused each year by sepsis, and £170 million from the annual NHS budget.


Sepsis, previously known as septicaemia, is blood poisoning which occurs following an infection. Well known sufferers treated successfully include the pop singer Lily Allen and Lily-Rose, the young daughter of Hollywood star Johnny Depp. Brazilian soccer legend Socrates died at the weekend from sepsis.

Campaigners are urging healthcare professionals to screen for sepsis when examining patients with severe flu-like symptoms, most prevalent in winter months. When sepsis is suspected, it is recommend that their Sepsis Six treatment plan is carried out within one hour as a routine emergency process.

Dr Ron Daniels, who works in the Intensive Therapy Unit at the Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham, and chairs UK Sepsis, urges vigilance among medics:

Sepsis is a silent killer, and as an ITU doctor, I have seen the devastating impact it causes too frequently. Sepsis remains the primary cause of death from infection despite advances in modern medicine, including vaccines, antibiotics and acute care. This is why I am passionate about establishing it as a medical emergency involving all health workers from the community through to hospital working together to reliably deliver the necessary treatment including the Sepsis Six within one hour.

Our e-petition has had tremendous support and been signed by more than 1,200 people, including medics, patients and their families. We strenuously plead with Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to make a commitment to ensure that all patients with sepsis get access to the rapid care they need in an emergency. This will require a co-ordinated national response, including strategies to heighten awareness and investment in the development of seamless care pathways from home to hospital.

Sepsis claims 37,000 lives annually in the UK - more than breast, bowel and prostate cancers combined, with the majority of cases in the community. We know that simple, timely interventions, including antibiotics and intravenous fluids, can dramatically reduce the risk of dying by up to one half, yet these are delivered in fewer than 1 in 7 cases in the UK. Early sepsis treatment is cost effective, reducing hospital and critical care bed days for patients, as well as saving lives.

The campaign is supported by Barbara Franks, a mother of four young children from Didsbury, Manchester whose husband Marc died from sepsis on 19 February. He was a director in his familys small property rental company where he had worked since leaving school at 18. This is their poignant story:

My husband died from sepsis a few months ago aged just 38, leaving four young children aged from 6 to just 3 months old. There were no warning signs until a couple of days before when he said his eczema had got slightly infected, but he went to work as normal on the Thursday.

Thursday night he put himself to bed early with sickness and diarrhoea as there had been a virus going round which me and a couple of the kids had had, so I thought no more about it.

Friday came and he was still in bed. Then Friday night/early hours Saturday morning, he started having all the symptoms, light headedness, breathing problems and clamminess, so I called an ambulance, but unfortunately he went into cardiac arrest and after an hour was pronounced dead. It took a post mortem to tell us he had died from sepsis which I had never heard of until now.

It would be great to make people more aware of the symptoms as my four children are now without a daddy.

Dr Daniels said it is crucial that the public become familiar with the symptoms of sepsis so they can alert their doctor about it. He says:

If a person has two or more of a very high (or very low) temperature, a racing heart beat, rapid shallow breathing, or confusion then they may have sepsis. They should seek medical advice if at all concerned. It is often difficult to distinguish sepsis from flu. However, if any of these features exist and the skin is cool, pale or mottled, the patient has lost consciousness or has not passed water for more than 18 hours then the patient needs to be taken to hospital as soon as possible. Tests should help to make the diagnosis.

He added: Marcs death was a very tragic loss. Every fatality from sepsis is a tragic loss. We need to inform the general public, as well as medics, about the warning signs, and I believe that every emergency centre in the UK should follow our Sepsis Six plan so they can make that crucial early difference.

The Sepsis Six treatment pathway is as follows:

  • Give high flow oxygen
  • Take blood cultures
  • Give IV antibiotics
  • Start IV fluid resuscitation
  • Check lactate
  • Monitor accurate hourly urine output

Full details about the UK Sepsis Trust can be found here. Full details about the Sepsis Six treatment pathway can be found here

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