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Government criticised over lack of urgency on sepsis


The NHS has failed to treat calls for action on sepsis with appropriate urgency, MPs have said.

The Public Administration Select Committee questioned senior health service figures over what action they had taken to improve recognition and treatment of sepsis in the NHS since the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman highlighted its devastating impact in a report last year.

The ombudsman’s report, a Time to Act, highlighted several tragic cases of sepsis deaths that could have been avoided and called for a “whole system response” to reducing avoidable deaths.

However, after hearing from junior health minister Dan Poulter, committee chair Bernard Jenkin said the government had “failed to give this report the urgency it deserves”.

“The system is so cautious, before we do anything we are losing lives,” he added.

Mr Poulter insisted tackling sepsis was a priority for the government and health secretary Jeremy Hunt and steps had already been taken to improve the education of doctors on the symptoms and management of the condition.

However, he was forced to acknowledge it had been three months before he became aware of the report’s publication last year.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition estimated to kill 37,000 people in the UK every year. It is estimated up to a third of these deaths could be avoided if the symptoms were spotted and treatment started promptly.

NHS England director of patient safety Dr Mike Durkin acknowledged there were avoidable delays in sepsis care that “should not be happening”.

However, he denied NHS England had been slow to act and pointed out the organisation had identified reducing deaths from sepsis as a priority.

He backed calls, reported by Nursing Times earlier this week, for financial incentives for hospitals to the increase focus on sepsis, such as those used successfully to reduce venous thromboembolism.

“What I would like to see us do is look at what commissioning levers we could introduce to get the system to concentrate on sepsis. It worked very well for VTE.”

Mr Jenkin also criticised the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for taking so long to produce guidance on sepsis. Although work started last year it will be 2016 before it is published.

Mr Jenkin questioned why it took three years to produce.

“What I’m hearing is the best is getting in the way of the good.”

“I think my committee is likely to conclude from this there is a complete lack of urgency in NICE,” he said.

NICE chair David Haslam told MPs the guidance had been prioritised but it took time “to do it properly”.


Readers' comments (5)

  • This initiative is urgent and long overdue. It is something I have felt very strongly about for many years. Systems and processes also need to be looked at in terms of not only identifying when a patient is very unwell and clearly developing sepsis, but in making sure they receive the prescribed antibiotics as a matter of urgency. Too often this in not seen as a priority and doctors and nurses can seem lackadaisical in their approach, not appreciating their lack of immediate action can lead to an unnecessary and preventable death. I am aware of patients who have waited up to 12 hours for 'urgent' IV antibiotics. This is not acceptable under any circumstances. This is an initiative I wholly support and it needs to be at the top of the agenda.......

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  • I have had Sepsis twice .
    Once in 2013, I was hospitalized for 3 months in Basingstoke hospital, it took the doctors 7 weeks to work out what was wrong with me by that time my life was in their hands . When they finally realized what was wrong the antibiotics worked but it took time and 3 times I almost died.
    I again had Sepsis in July 2014 . I was admitted to Frimley. What a difference the doctor knew what was wrong and gave me antibiotics straight away via a drip. I was out within 3 weeks .
    Different hospitals but the later knew the 6 points to look for and administer the correct drugs and quickly.
    All hospitals must work to the same 'hymn'
    sheets or more lives will be lost . I consider myself to be very lucky to be one of the lucky ones .

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  • I fully agree with Sandy Knowles, in the approach that some but not all doctors and nurses have .
    Something must be done and I for one would stand up and say so.
    The web page for Sepsis is very good maybe the government should take note.

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  • In our Trust anyone who score a early warning score of 5 or a 3 in any one parameter is automatically screened for Sepsis useing a care bundle.

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  • Richard White

    For clinicians and patients alike, I can highly recommend the Sepsis Trust a dedicated charity. Their website includes details of the "Sepsis Six" diagnostic and therapeutic criteria. We have the necessary clinical experts and best practice guidelines here in the UK! It is a matter of implementation - as ever.

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