Cases of deadly sepsis more than doubles in two years, NHS figures reveal

The number of cases of sepsis has more than doubled in the past two years, shocking new figures reveal.

According to NHS England statistics, there were 350,344 cases of the life-threatening blood poisoning condition in 2017/18, up from 169,215 in 2015/16.

A leading doctor last night warned that a growing resistance to antibiotics was ‘almost certainly’ contributing to the spiralling sepsis crisis which is thought to claim up to 52,000 lives each year.

There were 350,344 cases of the life-threatening blood poisoning condition in 2017/18, according to NHS England statistics. (Stock image)

There were 350,344 cases of the life-threatening blood poisoning condition in 2017/18, according to NHS England statistics. (Stock image)

There were 350,344 cases of the life-threatening blood poisoning condition in 2017/18, according to NHS England statistics. (Stock image) 

Dr Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said: ‘We know antimicrobial resistance is on the increase and we also know that more than 40 per cent of E.coli strains – the most common bug causing sepsis – are now resistant to our ‘first-line’ antibiotics.

‘So you can imagine a situation where a patient with a urinary tract infection is treated by a GP with antibiotics, but if the infection is caused by a type of E.coli that is resistant, it becomes more prolonged and complicated, increasing the risk of sepsis developing.’

Sepsis is caused when the immune system over-reacts to infection or injury and starts attacking organs and tissue in the body.

Without treatment, victims can die within hours, and a quarter of those who survive suffer permanent, life-changing effects. 

Sepsis is caused when the immune system over-reacts to infection or injury and starts attacking organs and tissue in the body. (Stock image)

Sepsis is caused when the immune system over-reacts to infection or injury and starts attacking organs and tissue in the body. (Stock image)

Sepsis is caused when the immune system over-reacts to infection or injury and starts attacking organs and tissue in the body. (Stock image)

While doctors were once confident that quick diagnosis and the use of antibiotics would successfully treat the condition, there is mounting concern about bacteria that are resistant to the drugs and a shortage of knowledge about how many sepsis cases involve such superbugs.

Dr Daniels said: ‘Techniques for identifying the bugs responsible aren’t that reliable.

‘The reality is that patients often aren’t even told that they’ve got sepsis, let alone what bugs caused it and whether or not that bug is resistant.’

He said the sharp increase could also be attributed, in part, to a greater awareness of sepsis and its symptoms, thanks to coverage in the media including this newspaper.

‘Since The Mail on Sunday and others have worked with us to raise the profile of sepsis, it’s driven clinicians to record it more frequently. That’s a good thing,’ Dr Daniels said. 

‘We are now probably closer to a true reflection of the burden of illness caused by sepsis than in the past.’

A further factor in the rise, he added, was the ageing population, as sepsis disproportionately affects the elderly. According to the NHS England figures, the number of recorded cases in those over-85 rose from 25,014 to 67,897.

Celia Ingham Clark, medical director for Clinical Effectiveness at NHS England, said: ‘The NHS has made huge improvements in spotting and treating sepsis quickly, with screening rates in emergency departments rising from 78 per cent in 2015 to 91 per cent in 2018.

‘Each year NHS England assesses the performance of local health bodies on how well they raise sepsis awareness among healthcare professionals, and more than 60,000 NHS staff have completed Health Education England’s learning modules on sepsis.’

 

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