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”.