Sepsis is a disease that many people have never heard of or been affected by. But statistics show that there are now nearly 150,000 cases of sepsis diagnosed each year in the UK. Incredibly, sepsis is now the cause of 44,000 deaths per annum. This is now more than the total deaths caused by bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. Sepsis is now the biggest direct cause of death in pregnancy.
Sepsis is defined as the reaction of the human body to a bacterial infection. When infected with a bacteria the body’s natural response is to immediately release white blood cells into the bloodstream to counter the infection. Additionally the body tissues swell to prevent the infection spreading. This biological process is known as ‘inflammation’.
If the patient’s immune system is vulnerable or, if the infection is very severe then the infection can quickly spread throughout the entire body. In response, the immune system also reacts and in attempting to shut down the infection, causes the inflammation to affect the patient’s entire body also.
Inflamed tissue is not very helpful to good blood flow and interruption of blood flow can then lead to a drop in blood pressure. The drop in blood pressure can cause damage to tissues and organs which are starved of the blood they need to function properly.
Infections can be caught in the community leading to hospital treatment. Alternatively, the infection may develop in hospital or it may caused by hospital treatment such as surgery or other types of invasive treatment
Low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, increased temperature, shivering.
Sepsis is a medical emergency. Prompt diagnosis of sepsis is essential. Treatment is by way of very strong antibiotics – usually by way of an intravenous drip. The patient will also require fluids. Ideally, antibiotic treatment should start within an hour of diagnosis to reduce the risk of serious complications or death. Unless treated quickly sepsis can ultimately lead to organ failure, loss of limbs or sadly even death.
Sepsis case study one
Hodge Jones Allen obtained a substantial out of court settlement for the family of a 32 year old pregnant woman who died after 2 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 2 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.
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 Mr. A was left permanently paralysed below the waist. The claim settled for a seven figure sum.
Sepsis case study two
Hodge Jones Allen acted for the parents of William Oscar Mead at an Inquest into his death in Truro in 2015. William died tragically from septicaemia caused by a chest infection and bronchopneumonia. The Inquest heard that he had had a cough for a prolonged period. William had last been seen by a doctor at about 4pm on Friday 12 December 2014.
His parents had telephoned the GP ‘Out of Hours’ service on Saturday 13 December 2014, but, no home visit was offered to them, nor did the doctor insist on assessing William face-to-face.
At the inquest Professor Peter Fleming, an expert paediatrician said that William’s death could have been avoided had appropriate treatment been given as late as the night of Saturday 13 December. The BBC news report on this tragic story can be found here.
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