Kate Oldfield – Managing Partner and Head of Personal Injury – discusses sepsis and why time is of the essence for early diagnosis

Kate Oldfield, Managing Partner and Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at DBF Law

According to a recent article in the Nursing Times, deaths from sepsis in hospital have risen by more than a third over the last two years.  Staff shortages have been blamed together with hospital overcrowding.  Unfortunately a large portion of the public do not recognise the symptoms which can lead to a delay in treatment.  Furthermore, a large range of health care professionals can come into contact with patients and many of them are not trained in responding to sepsis and do not recognise the symptoms either.

The procedure for the treatment for sepsis is straightforward if the infection is caught early enough. The objective is always to identify the source of the infection and give the appropriate antibiotics without delay.

It is widely acknowledged that sepsis is often mistaken for flu and there have been a number of nationwide campaigns to educate health care professionals.  In April of this year, NHS Improvement issued a patient safety alert to all of England’s 134 acute hospital trusts and 10 ambulance services to do more to spot signs of a patient’s deterioration.  This agency, which oversees NHS patient safety standards, hopes that its move will lead to lives being saved through people receiving faster treatment.

In our experience at Davis Blank Furniss, many front line NHS staff are unaware how quickly patients can die with this condition.  Over the last two years we have seen a large increase in instructions from clients and client’s families whose cases of sepsis have been  misdiagnosed.  Sadly, most of these have resulted in the death of a patient.

In our most recent case, an elderly relative had become unwell. She was admitted to hospital and her condition deteriorated. Unfortunately she was simply monitored with no treatment for 42 hours.  She was in fact suffering from undiagnosed sepsis. The delay in providing swift and appropriate antibiotics considerably reduced her chances of survival and the patient died.  We obtained an independent medical expert’s opinion in this case who stated unequivocally that if the deceased had received the required antibiotic treatment she would have survived and made a full recovery.

Sadly, the cases continue.  Recently we have heard in the news about the sad case of Tim Mason.  Tim was 21 and was suffering from flu like symptoms.  He attended his local hospital but was discharged without treatment.  Hours later Tim was rushed back to Tunbridge Wells Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department for the second time that day.  He was appropriately treated on this occasion, but died hours later. His organs began to fail and he had a cardiac arrest whilst in an induced coma.

In this particular case, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has accepted liability for their failings and has admitted breaching their duty of care by discharging Tim with such symptoms on the first occasion.

Davis Blank Furniss can support bereaved families in these types of tragic circumstances. We can assist with representation through the coronial process.  We have attended a number of inquests dealing with sepsis and have persuaded the Coroner in a number of cases to consider adding neglect to the conclusion.  We have also aided family members to bring dependency claims. This is particularly important when the deceased relative was a bread winner. These claims support the family members left behind financially and help them to continue with their lives after their loved ones have died.

For more information about Kate and her work, please click HERE.

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