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Written on 9th May 2019 by Alpa Rana

The UK Sepsis Trust report that there are around 250,000 cases of sepsis a year in the UK and around 52,000 (around 20%) of those people die as a result.

NHS England has issued new guidance to NHS Trusts aimed at improving diagnosis times and commencement of treatment for patients arriving in accident and emergency departments with symptoms of sepsis. Under the new guidance, hospital staff must alert senior doctors if patients with suspected sepsis do not respond to treatment within an hour.

Sepsis – what is it?

The NHS website describes sepsis as “a serious complication of an infection” which without quick treatment can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

There are varying degrees of sepsis but, if left untreated, severe sepsis (affecting the organs or reducing the blood and oxygen supply to the tissues) and septic shock (in which the blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) may develop. Both are medical emergencies.

How do you get sepsis?

Sepsis can arise from an infection in any part of the body; the most common sites of infection are the lungs, urinary tract, abdomen and pelvis.

Anyone can develop sepsis but if diagnosed at an early stage, it can be treated with antibiotics at home. In most cases, people generally go on to make a full recovery without lasting consequences.

Why is sepsis so dangerous?

Sepsis is difficult to diagnose. There isn’t any one investigation or obvious symptom for it, which means that signs can be missed and often treatment starts too late. Additionally, symptoms present differently in adults and children, which can cause confusion.

If left untreated, sepsis can progress into the vital organs which can result in organ failure. This is a medical emergency and can lead to serious consequences such as amputation or death.

How is sepsis treated?

Sepsis is usually treated by antibiotics. The type of antibiotic may vary depending on where the infection originated but they are generally of a high strength dose and administered intravenously. Treatment should be started promptly as every minute counts in stopping the spread of sepsis. Ideally, treatment should start within an hour of diagnosis/development of symptoms.

What is the NHS doing to reduce delays in treatment of sepsis?

Delays in diagnosis and treatment of sepsis should not happen, but unfortunately they do. 

The NHS recognises that delays in diagnosis and treatment of sepsis can have catastrophic consequences. Public awareness has also increased following recent media attention on the devastating injuries suffered by patients as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment of this dangerous condition. In response to these concerns, NHS England has issued new guidance requiring NHS Trusts to prioritise patients with suspected sepsis for diagnosis and treatment in one hour.

Meanwhile, some clinicians have expressed reservations about the consequences of the guidance, as they are concerned that the focus will be on meeting targets rather than improving service and that patients with suspected sepsis will be moved onto short-staffed acute medicine units rather than receiving proper diagnosis and treatment on accident and emergency wards. Against a background of stretched NHS resources, concerns have also been raised about the potentially poorer and slower treatment that other patients on A&E might receive.

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence team have helped secure compensation for many clients with devastating injuries arising from delayed diagnosis and treatment of sepsis. We welcome the new guidance and all genuine efforts to raise awareness within the NHS of the importance of early recognition and treatment of sepsis. We hope that by improving standards for diagnosis and treatment the number of lives affected by this dangerous condition will be greatly reduced. 

If you have suffered serious disability as a result of late diagnosis and treatment of sepsis and would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at