Reported sepsis deaths may have understated the true figures

03 August 2018

Press reports based on data collected by Prof Sir Brian Jarman, director of the Dr Foster research unit at Imperial College London, suggest that hospital deaths due to sepsis seem to have risen by more than a third in two years.

According to these findings, in the year ending April 2017, there were 15,722 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge where sepsis was the leading cause. Many have commented that the data does not prove an increase in sepsis cases per se.

How sepsis is recorded

The increase may be partly explained by the fact that an inconsistent approach to record keeping and reporting makes it difficult to keep track of the true number of deaths and the real scale of the problem. Shoosmiths is proud to support the work of the UK Sepsis Trust. Ron Daniels, the chief executive of the Trust and an intensive care consultant, commented that it is very common for sepsis to be reported as simply being the ‘underlying infection’ rather than the cause of death in hospital records. A patient may die of sepsis in an intensive care unit with multiple organ failure – but the death is recorded as being due to pneumonia.

Over the past three years, there has been huge effort across the NHS to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis, so some cases previously recorded as simple infections are now classified as sepsis.

Awareness and early diagnosis of sepsis

Some hospitals with a lower death rate have taken the message from various awareness campaigns on board, reducing mortality from sepsis. Methods of improving the diagnosis and management of sepsis are being shared with others so that they learn from best practice.

If sepsis is identified and treated with antibiotics in its early stages, the individual has a far better chance of survival. The longer it is left undiagnosed or untreated, the greater the risk of organ damage or death from septic shock. Identification and early treatment of sepsis is absolutely essential in order to reduce the risk of tissue damage which can lead to amputation and ultimately save lives.

It is some comfort that the apparent increase in the figures may be partly due to an increasing recognition and re-categorisation of sepsis, but the need for sustained awareness drives and educational programmes that target both the health profession and the general public remains as high as ever.

The symptoms of sepsis

Medical professionals and patients alike still need to ask the question ‘could it be sepsis?’ using the acronym that illustrates the symptoms to help with speedy recognition:

  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • “I feel like I might die”
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

If you have lost a family member from sepsis or sepsis has caused you or a family member serious injury and you have concerns about the standard of the medical treatment received, you may wish to speak to one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors about a sepsis compensation claim.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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