Spotting the signs of sepsis

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Sepsis is responsible for more deaths in the UK than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined and yet, many people are still not aware of its danger.

NHS England estimates there are approximately 37,000 deaths each year from sepsis[i]. That’s approximately 259,000 deaths in seven years from sepsis in England.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to prevent injuries and deaths due to sepsis infection. That’s why it’s vital to educate the public as well as medical professionals on recognising the symptoms of this potentially devastating disease.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, also known as ‘blood poisoning’ or ‘septicaemia’ is the reaction to an infection in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues and it can occur as the result of any infection.

It is a serious condition that can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection and it can be life-threatening if it is not diagnosed in time and treated with appropriate antibiotics.

Everyone is potentially at risk of developing sepsis from minor infections. However, the most vulnerable individuals include:

    • People with a medical condition that weakens their immune system
    • Those who are receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
    • The very young or old
    • People who have just had surgery, or have wounds or injuries as a result of an accidentSepsis is a particular risk for people already in the hospital because of another serious illness.

What signs should you look for?

The UK Sepsis Trust advises people to seek medical help urgently if they develop any of the following:

Slurred speech or confusion
Extreme shivering or muscle pain
Passing no urine (in a day)
Severe breathlessness
It feels like you’re going to die
Skin mottled or discoloured

The NHS advises that if you have a child under the age of five with the following symptoms, you should go straight to A&E or call 999:

  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Has a fit or convulsion

Sepsis and medical negligence

In the last few years, there have been a number of patients who have died from sepsis due to incorrect diagnosis and delayed treatment and these cases have been widely reported in the media. Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose and there are often delays and issues with its diagnosis and treatment that contribute to the high death rate from the condition. Indeed, even the former Chair of the General Medical Council, Professor Sir Graham Catto, has admitted failing to diagnose sepsis in a timely manner, an error that contributed to a patient’s death.[ii] The initial symptoms can be mild and they are often overlooked and confused with other conditions, such as flu. This can mean that patients are not assessed, and treated, for sepsis when it’s still in the early stages.If sepsis is detected early and it has not affected vital organs, it may be treated at home with antibiotics. Research shows that simple steps – such as intravenous antibiotics in the first hour – can reduce the risk of death by sepsis by over a third. However, opportunities for early diagnosis are still being missed. If sepsis is caught and treated quickly, in most cases, there will be a full recovery with no lasting problems.Another source of negligence can be when sepsis is identified but not treated effectively and quickly. Both a delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to sepsis worsening and a risk of septic shock, organ failure or death.

At Novum Law, we have years of experience helping patients make claims for compensation due to medical negligence. By securing compensation, we can help you and your family access the expert care, support and rehabilitation you need now and into the future. Compensation can also provide much needed financial support if you have a loved one who has unfortunately died due to sepsis.If you need any further information or advice about sepsis contact Neil Elliott ( or Daniel Green (  of Novum Law for free initial advice. The UK Sepsis Trust is there to help. Founded in 2012 by a world leader in sepsis, NHS Consultant Dr. Ron Daniels, it aims to save lives and improve outcomes for sepsis survivors by educating healthcare professionals, raising public awareness and providing help and support for patients and their families affected by sepsis.

Visit for more information.

[i] NHS England. Improving outcomes for patients with sepsis A cross system action plan. December 2015.…

[ii] NHS National Patient Safety Agency. Medical Error. August 2005.

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