Sepsis negligence claims solicitors

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs.

It can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death especially when it is not recognised early and treated promptly. 

 

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Sepsis negligence claims

Approximately 37,000 people die of sepsis every year in the UK, that is a higher mortality rate than from heart attacks and some common cancers.  Early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis is vital to saving lives and recent studies indicate that as many as 13,000 lives could be saved by better care. Those who survive sepsis are often left needing ongoing support, sometimes after weeks in hospital.

Common causes of sepsis

Sepsis is commonly caused by an infection, this could be pneumonia, flu, appendicitis, peritonitis, a urinary tract infection, cellulitis, a post-surgical infection, meningitis or encephalitis. Some are more vulnerable to developing sepsis than others, including the old and young, those who have had surgery, those undergoing chemotherapy treatments or those with HIV.

There is research to show that simple steps - such as giving intravenous antibiotics and fluids in the first hour - can reduce the risk of death by sepsis by over one-third. However frequently these interventions aren’t delivered to patients with suspected sepsis in the NHS.

Sepsis symptoms

  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day) 
  • Severe breathlessness
  • "I feel like I might die"
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

Claim compensation for sepsis negligence

We understand what a devastating impact sepsis can have on patients and their families. We also know how important obtaining compensation can be to help with rehabilitation of those who survive and the financial worries of those that are bereaved as a result of sepsis.

I am overwhelmed by the outcome in terms of the monetary value and know I should consider it as a near a 'sorry' as I am likely to get from the hospital. It will be nice to start the process of closure on the whole issue now and look towards the future for us as a family. 

Mrs T, Surrey 

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Types of sepsis negligence claims

Common failings in sepsis management

Studies have found that failings in care often occur in the first few hours after arriving in hospital, when rapid diagnosis and simple treatment can be critical to the chances of survival.

Common failures in care include:

  • Inadequate and timely history and examination on initial assessment.
  • Inadequate and timely investigations.
  • Failure to recognise the severity of the illness.
  • Inadequate first-line treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
  • Delays in administering first-line treatment.
  • Inadequate physiological monitoring of vital signs.
  • Delay in source control of infection.
  • Delay in senior medical input, and the lack of timely referral to critical care.

All too often these failings lead to avoidable deaths.

Neutropenic sepsis

In September 2012 NICE introduced guidelines for the prevention and management of neutropenic sepsis in cancer patients. Neutropenic sepsis is a life threatening complication of anticancer treatments  such as chemotherapy. Mortality rates as high as 21% have been reported in adults. It  has been found that aggressive use of inpatient intravenous antibiotic therapy  reduces morbidity and mortality rates and intensive care management of patients is now required in less than 5% of cases in England.

Reports in 2008 and 2010 by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death and the National Chemotherapy Advisory Group highlighted problems in the management of neutropenic sepsis in adults receiving chemotherapy. These included  inadequate management of neutropenic fever  leading to avoidable deaths, and a  need for systems for urgent assessment  and  organisation-level policies  for dealing with neutropenic fever. The reports also noted variation in the provision of information on the treatment of side effects and on access to 24-hour telephone advice.

The first report looked at deaths within 30 days of chemotherapy treatment and concluded that there was room for improvement in the care that 49% of the patients received. In 8% of cases the care was considered to be less than satisfactory and in some cases well below an acceptable standard.

Neutropenic sepsis negligence claims  can be brought where patients haven’t received urgent and appropriate treatment and this has lead to serious illness and a prolonged recovery or in some cases death.

Maternal sepsis

Maternal sepsis is a  severe complication of pregnancy or birth  and, if untreated, can lead to  septic shock  and death. In the UK, the incidence of fatal maternal sepsis has increased over the last two decades, placing sepsis as the leading cause of direct maternal death. Between 2003-2005, 71% of mothers who died directly by sepsis in the UK were found to have had substandard care (mainly due to a delay in diagnosis of sepsis).

Sepsis signs and symptoms

Sepsis affects 150,000 people in the UK and causes 44,000 deaths. It affects more people each year than bowel, prostate and breast cancer combined.

Early recognition and treatment of sepsis could save up to 14,000 lives every year so it is vital to spot the signs and symptoms as soon as possible.

For adults - the sepsis six:

  • S lurred speech or confusion
  • E xtreme shivering or muscle pain
  • P assing no urine (in a day)
  • S evere breathlessness
  • I t feels like you’re going to die
  • S kin mottled or discoloured

Sepsis symptoms for children:

  • Fast breathing
  • Fits or convulsions
  • Looks mottled, bluish, or pale
  • A rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Lethargy or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormal cold to touch
  • Vomiting
  • Not feeding
  • Hasn’t urinated or had a wet nappy for 12 hours

Adult sepsis symptoms card

Child sepsis symptoms card

Sepsis negligence FAQ's

Q. What is sepsis?

A. Sepsis is a potentially life threatening illness that occurs when the body overreacts to an infection. It can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections. The immune system goes into overdrive and sets off a series of reactions that can lead to widespread inflammation (swelling) and blood clotting.

Q. What are the symptoms of sepsis?

A. The symptoms of sepsis may develop after a localised infection, or an injury, or following surgery.

Symptoms often develop quickly and include:

  • A fever or high temperature over 38C (100.4F)
  • Chills
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Confusion or delirium

In severe cases or where there is septic shock you may notice:

  • Low blood pressure that makes you feel dizzy when you stand up
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cold, clammy and pale skin

Q. What causes sepsis?

A. In approximately 20% of cases the infection and source of the sepsis is unknown. It can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body. The most common sites of infection leading to sepsis are the lungs, urinary tract, abdomen and pelvis.

Common types of infection associated with sepsis include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Flu
  • Appendicitis
  • Peritonitis
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Cellulitis and other skin infections
  • Post-surgical infections
  • Meningitis or encephalitis

Usually, the immune system will keep infection limited to one place. The body produces white blood cells, which travel to the site of the infection to destroy the germs causing infection. Various biological processes occur, such as tissue swelling, which helps fight the infection and prevents it spreading. This process is known as inflammation.

If the immune system is weakened or an infection is particularly severe, it can spread through the blood into other parts of the body. This causes the immune system to go into overdrive, and the process of inflammation affects the entire body. This can result in more problems than the initial infection, as widespread inflammation damages tissue and interferes with the flow of blood, leading to a dangerous drop in blood pressure, which stops oxygen reaching your organs and tissue.

Q. Who is likely to suffer sepsis?

A. Anyone is potentially at risk of developing sepsis from minor infections, such as flu. However, some people are more vulnerable:

  • Those who have a medical condition that weakens their immune system, such as HIV or leukaemia.
  • Those receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system, such as chemotherapy.
  • The very young or very old.
  • Those who have just had surgery.
  • Those with wounds or injuries as a result of trauma.
  • Those in hospital due to another serious injury.
  • Those on mechanical ventilation or with drips or catheters attached to their skin.
  • Those genetically prone to infection.

Q. How is sepsis diagnosed?

A. Usually sepsis is diagnosed by a blood test, but other tests may help to determine the type of infection, where it is located and which body functions have been affected.

Tests to diagnose sepsis may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool sample tests
  • Blood pressure tests
  • A wound culture test
  • Respiratory secretion testing  such as saliva, phlegm or mucus
  • Imaging studies such as an X-ray or CT scan
  • Kidney, liver and heart function tests
  • A lumbar puncture

It is essential that where sepsis is suspected a diagnosis is made as soon as possible so that appropriate treatment can be given. This can help stop the progress of sepsis and any long-term damage to the body, as well as save lives.

Q. How is sepsis treated?

A. If sepsis is not treated, it can lead to severe sepsis and septic shock. A patient’s chances of surviving septic shock will depend on the cause of infection, the number of organs that have failed and how soon treatment is started.

Complications of septic shock can include respiratory failure, heart failure, kidney failure or abnormal blood clotting.

These are all serious health conditions that need to be treated urgently and septic shock can be fatal.

In the longer term, whilst many patients make a full recovery, albeit sometimes after many months, others can suffer permanent organ damage and require dialysis, heart medication or have difficulties with concentration and memory. Some patients need an amputation to stop the spread of the infection or because of a lack of blood supply to limbs. Some suffer anxiety or depression following their stay in intensive care and others develop post traumatic stress disorder.

Q. Can I bring a claim for medical negligence as a result of sepsis?

A. The common errors that lead to a medical negligence claim for sepsis result from:

  • Failure to recognise the symptoms of sepsis.
  • Delay in diagnosis of sepsis.
  • Failure to treat sepsis urgently.
  • Inappropriate care for those with sepsis.
  • Failure to consider the patient’s clinical history and immune status.

Q. Why should I claim?

A. Sepsis can have an extensive psychological as well as physical and financial impact on many patients and their families. If the sepsis has resulted in death then the bereaved family often have very considerable financial needs.

Sepsis negligence definitions

The medical language associated with sepsis can be complicated and difficult to understand. We have identified some of the key terms in use every day in relation to sepsis.

B

Bacterical infection

Bacterical infection are caused by bacteria. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms. Most bacteria are not harmful and many are helpful. Some bacteria in the intestine help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. However infectious bacteria cause illness, reproducing quickly in the body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which cause tissue damage and illness. Common bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.

C

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a localized or diffuse inflammation of connective tissue with severe inflammation of dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin.

Chills

Chills is a feeling of coldness occurring during a high fever.

D

Dialysis

Dialysis is a process for removing waste and excess water from the blood. It is most commonly used as an artificial replacement for lost kidney function in patients with renal failure.

E

Encephalitis

Encephalitis is an acute inflammation of the brain.  It can be caused by viral or bacterial infections.

F

Fever

Fever or pyrexia is an elevation of body temperature above the normal range of 36.5–37.5 °C.

Fungal infection

Fungal infection is caused by fungi that are common in the environment. Fungi can be found on skin, mucous membranes, and intestinal tracts. Most fungi are not dangerous. However, some types of fungi can be harmful to health and like bacteria and viruses, some fungi can act as pathogens or toxins. Some types of fungal infections can be mild, such as a rash or a mild respiratory illness.  However, other fungal infections can be severe, such as fungal pneumonia or bloodstream infection.

I

Inflammation

Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as infection.  The classical signs of acute inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

Influenza

Influenza, commonly known as flu, is an infectious disease caused by viruses.

Intravenous antibiotics

Intravenous antibiotics are whereby antibiotics are delivered directly into a vein.

L

Localised infection

An localised infection is an infection that is restricted or limited to a specific body part or region.

Lumbar puncture

A lumbar puncture is a diagnostic procedure performed to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for biochemical, microbiological, and cytological analysis.

M

Meningitis

Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms. Meningitis is potentially life-threatening because of the inflammation's proximity to the brain and spinal cord.

P

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung.

Peritonitis

Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers most of the abdominal organs. Peritonitis may be localized or generalized, and may result from infection.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe psychological condition that may develop when a patient is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as serious illness or injury, or the threat of death. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms such as recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and high levels of anxiety continue for more than a month after the traumatic event.

S

Septic shock

Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after an infection.

U

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection is an infection that affects part of the urinary tract; the bladder or the kidneys. Infections affecting the lower urinary tract are known as cystitis (a bladder infection) and when infection affects the upper urinary tract it is known as pyelonephritis (a kidney infection).

V

Viral infection

Viral infection are caused by viruses. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and require living hosts — such as people, to multiply. Otherwise, they can't survive. When a virus enters your body, it invades some of your cells and takes over the cell machinery, redirecting it to produce the virus. Diseases that result from viruses include chickenpox, AIDS and the common cold.

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