In anticipation of #WorldSepsis day on September 13th I wanted to help raise awareness of sepsis (or septicaemia as it was previously known as) and help raise understanding for those whose lives may have been affected by medical negligence in connection with the misdiagnosis and/or mistreatment of this condition.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is a life threatening condition which arises when the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage its own organs and tissues. If the signs and symptoms of sepsis are not recognised and treated within time, this can result in septic shock, multi-organ failure and even death.
It is well-known that sepsis is a global and serious health crisis and it is the final common pathway to death from most infectious diseases. The World Health Organization’s global report on the epidemiology and burden of sepsis found that in 2017, sepsis had affected 49 million people worldwide and there were 11 million related deaths which accounted for 20% of all global deaths1. In the UK alone, there are approximately 250,000 cases of sepsis each year, claiming 52,000 lives with 5 people dying every hour.
Signs and symptoms of Sepsis
Sepsis can manifest itself as common infections such as a flu, gastrointestinal or chest infections, to name a few. There are no specific or identifiable symptoms which makes it difficult to diagnose and recognise sepsis. However, the SEPSIS acronym is a useful indicator to assess cases of suspected sepsis. Signs to look out for are:
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain/fever
- Passing no urine all day
- Severe breathlessness
- It feels like you are going to die
- Skin mottled or discoloured
Who can get Sepsis?
Anyone can get sepsis. There are certain groups of people who are more to prone to sepsis including:
- Babies under the age 1
- Adults over the age of 60
- People who have diabetes
- Those with weakened immune systems
- If you have recently had surgery
- Women during pregnancy, childbirth or post-abortion – known as maternal sepsis
Treatment of Sepsis
Sepsis is a medical emergency which needs to be treated quickly in a hospital. Antibiotics and fluids should be administered rapidly within the hour and other diagnostic tests may need to be carried out. There may be a prolonged period of stay in hospital whist treatment for sepsis is undertaken. If left untreated or undiagnosed for too long, this can lead to septic shock which can cause multi-organ failure and death.
Recovery from Sepsis
Most people will make a full recovery from sepsis but this will vary from person to person, depending on their condition and any pre-existing medical health problems. Survivors of sepsis may experience post sepsis syndrome (PSS) – these can be physical or psychological problems such as feeling lethargic, poor appetite, insomnia, joint and muscle pains, anxiety, depression, flashbacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These symptoms can last for a few months or years, depending on severity.
Prevention of Sepsis
The risk of sepsis is preventable provided that effective infection control measures are put in place as well as early diagnosis and management. Infections can be prevented by:
- Immediately cleaning and frequently caring open wound sites
- Treatment with antibiotics
- Washing your hands regularly
- Awareness of sepsis
Where to find further information
Recognising the signs and symptoms of sepsis is crucial in order to save lives. Further information on sepsis is available on the following websites:
Our Medical Negligence team at Hodge Jones & Allen have been able to successfully secure settlements for our clients, these have included:
Wrong organ removed instead of inflamed appendix
A 32 year-old pregnant woman who died after two junior surgeons operated unsupervised to remove an inflamed appendix, but removed a healthy ovary by mistake. The error was discovered by histopathology, but not reported properly to those treating her, so she developed septicaemia and died two weeks later. At the Inquest the Coroner found that “a window of opportunity was missed” to operate again and save her. Investigations into fitness to practice by the General Medical Council resulted in some of the doctors involved being given restrictions on their practice.
Outcome: Substantial out of court settlement for the family
Permanent paralysis due to incorrect and delayed diagnosis
Our client collapsed at home after feeling unwell. Treatment was commenced and some investigations were undertaken. Crucially, the Claimant’s complaints of back pain were ignored. The patient deteriorated and he was put into intensive care. His life was saved but there was a considerable delay in finding the source of the infection which was a spinal abscess. The delay was so severe that the claimant was left permanently paralysed below the waist.
Outcome: Damages were awarded and the claim settled for a seven figure sum.