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Sepsis misdiagnosis and compensation claims

Sepsis is now regarded as an acute illness which should be treated with the same degree of urgency as a stroke or heart attack. Worldwide, this life-threatening illness affects more than 25 million people every year with a third of cases proving fatal.

The statistics for this less well known but potentially killer condition are stark:

  • 150,000 cases annually in UK.
  • 44,000 people die annually in UK.
  • Mortality is greater than the combined deaths from breast, bowel and prostate cancer.
  • Makes up 40% of critical care workload.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis can be triggered by a minor infection and is the response of the body’s immune system to that infection. The body can begin to self-destruct by attacking their own tissues and internal organs.

Early symptoms include:

  • extremes of temperature;
  • fast breathing; and/or
  • rapid heartbeat with rapid deterioration thereafter.

The figures show that it is often fatal with survivors sometimes experiencing limb loss, chronic fatigue and muscle and joint pain.

Sepsis is a condition caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.

It can affect anyone but certain groups are more susceptible including patients suffering from diabetes, cancer, HIV infection or those who are immunosuppressed. The elderly and the young including babies are also at higher risk.

Preventing infection in the first place is the best way to avoid complications but public awareness of the condition is increasingly important in ensuring patients who present early symptoms seek treatment quickly. The sooner treatment commences the greater the chance of a favourable outcome and recovery.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently issued up to date guidance for doctors and nurses regarding diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

Diagnosis – ask the question – could it be sepsis?

Recent campaigns have, through raising awareness of the condition, empowered nurses and carers to ask the question: could it be sepsis?

The Sepsis Six

Doctors considering a diagnosis of sepsis look for:

  1. Mental state – alteration in mental state.
  2. Blood Pressure – decrease of systolic blood pressure.
  3. Breathing – respiratory rate of more than 25 breaths per minute.
  4. Circulation and hydration – increased heart rate > 130 bpm and difficulty passing urine.
  5. Temperature – tympanic temperature less than 36.
  6. Skin – mottled or ashen, cyanosis of skin, lips or tongue, non-blanching rash of skin.

Treatment and management of sepsis

  • Deliver high flow oxygen.
  • Take blood cultures.
  • Administer empiric intravenous antibiotics.
  • Measure serum lactate and send for a full blood count.
  • Start IV fluid resuscitation.
  • Accurate urine output measurement.

Misdiagnosis and making a claim

Sepsis often goes undetected until it is too late to treat and claims can arise if there has been delay in identifying the condition and that with earlier treatment the outcome would have been different.

In a young child or person of working age the financial consequences can be catastrophic and life changing with patients who recover often suffering amputations and/or brain injury. For many the consequences are fatal.

If you or a relative or friend have been affected by sepsis and think that you might have a claim for sepsis misdiagnosis, or concerns with regard to the treatment or management of sepsis, please contact a member of our medical negligence team on 0800 316 8892 or contact us online.

Your key contacts

Kerry Fifield

Partner and Clinical Negligence Team Manager

Kerry’s primary focus is the needs of the client and their family when pursuing a claim, taking into account that each client is an individual with specific requirements who needs to be supported in addition to the legal investigation.
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Marguarita Tyne

Head of Personal Injury & Medical Negligence

Marguarita Tyne is a claimant clinical negligence solicitor who investigates and brings claims on behalf of patients who have been injured during the course of their medical treatment, acting mainly (but not exclusively) for brain injury claimants in high value and often complex litigation.
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