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Major new study to investigate child deaths from sepsis and other treatable infections

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Nurse researchers have begun a new study today into why the UK has more childhood deaths from treatable infections than comparable European countries, and why fatal delays in admission occur.

Sweden and Italy both have better survival rates from conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis, noted those behind the major new 18-month study involving three health service trusts, three universities and a range of charities.

University of Northampton

Nurse-led study to focus on cutting child deaths from sepsis

Logo used by BeArH study

It will investigate concerns raised by Melissa Mead and Sue Morrish, who both lost sons to sepsis after high profile failures in the health system.

One-year old William Mead died in 2014 after both the NHS 111 helpline and GPs failed to recognise his condition. Sam Morrish was three years old when he died in 2010 after what an official report called “a catalogue of errors” by the health services.

Led by the University of Northampton, the project will examine in detail, incidents of serious infection in children under five years of age – from the moment a parent realises their child is ill, through contact with frontline health services, to their child’s subsequent admission to hospital.

The research aims to identify those points in this process where improvements can be made. The study authors hope it will identify ways to speed up admissions and, ultimately, save lives.

The study – titled Before Arrival at Hospital: Factors affecting timing of admission to hospital with serious infectious illness (BeArH) – has received £147,000 funding from the National Institute for Health Research and will run until May 2019.

“We know little about the factors that influence when children are admitted to hospital”

Sarah Neill

Sarah Neill, associate professor of children’s nursing at Northampton, is leading the project along with Dr Amardeep Heer from Lakeside Healthcare, the largest general practice in the NHS.

Dr Neill said: “Infection is a major cause of avoidable childhood deaths in the UK, particularly in the under-fives, yet we know little about the factors that influence when children are admitted to hospital.”

She noted that these factors may range from aspects of individual children and their family situations, through to the responses of GP surgeries, NHS helplines or emergency departments.

“Many of these deaths could be avoided, as infections such as meningitis and pneumonia are potentially treatable if caught early enough,” said Dr Neill.

“Parents often find it difficult to access relevant health information or to interpret symptoms,” she said. “It can even be difficult for GPs to determine how serious a case is in the early stages.

“Identifying all the steps before hospital admission that could be improved is vital if we are to spare other families the heartache that Melissa and Sue have had to go through,” she noted.

“Infections such as meningitis and pneumonia are potentially treatable if caught early enough”

Sarah Neill

She highlighted that the project would be “examining every stage in the child’s journey to see where delays may occur”.

“This might be due to lack of easily accessible, reliable information for parents on symptoms, errors in information sharing between different parts of the NHS, or delays in being seen in an emergency department,” she said.

“Whatever it is, the information we gather will help us to design service improvements so that children get the help they need more quickly,” said Dr Neill.

Data for the study will be collected from the catchment areas of the hospitals participating in the study, which are mostly located in the East Midlands and the North West.

Partners contributing to the research are the Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, Edge Hill University in Lancashire, the charity Meningitis Now and the Mother’s Instinct support group.

Several other charities are also supporting the research, including the UK Sepsis Trust, the Meningitis Research Foundation, WellChild and the Encephalitis Society.

University of Northampton

Nurse-led study to focus on cutting child deaths from sepsis

Sarah Neill

The project has three strands. The first will look at the services available to parents in each area and review investigations into previous cases of serious infection – including child death reviews, critical incident reports, and hospital and ambulance usage data.

The next will involve specially trained nurses identifying the parents of around 20 children being cared for in high dependency or intensive care with a serious infection.

Once their child is well enough to move to a children’s ward, the parents will be approached to take part in the study, and interviewed once their child is home again.

With parent’s permission, health professionals involved in their child’s pre-hospital care will be interviewed separately, to get a fuller understanding of the child’s journey to hospital.

The final strand will involve focus groups with a further 16-20 families whose child had a serious infectious illness in the last two years, as well as separate groups with health professionals who have had experience of caring for such children.

All of the data will then be combined to hopefully suggest how various key factors affect the point at which ill children are admitted to hospital.

The findings will then help inform where services need to change, with future work expected to involve parents and health services helping to make these changes and evaluate their impact.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Why are you confining this to children? Do others not count your eyes? Are you just defending yourselves in an area which automatically attracts the sympathy vote?

    Sepsis awareness should covert for all.

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