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Sepsis: The need for swift medical treatment and the vital signs everyone needs to be aware of

by Marianne Stapleton, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell 

The increase in waiting times for ambulances and delays in treatment has been a reoccurring news feature over the past few months. This is a major concern for conditions such as sepsis where immediate treatment is necessary to achieve the best long term outcome.

Ambulance and A&E waiting times have not been helped by the pandemic, with NHS staff across the board complaining of burn-out and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Guardian has reported that more than 400 NHS staff members a week are leaving the NHS.

Concerning ambulance delay for sepsis patient 

Recently sepsis patient Alexander Davenport, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, was initially turned away by the ambulance service and later waited four hours for one to arrive while suffering from signs and symptoms he believed were indicative of severe sepsis.

Alexander, who had suffered with sepsis twice before, most recently suffering septic shock in October 2021, knew he wasn’t well with an infected ankle and markers of sepsis. He called 999 for an ambulance flagging his symptoms and medical history, including a suppressed immune system. However, he was told to contact his GP for advice. 

Alexander did as he was advised and while waiting for his GP to return the call his condition deteriorated and further sepsis symptoms appeared.

Importance of receiving medical treatment quickly

Thanks to the awareness work done by the UK Sepsis Trust and Irwin Mitchell, Alexander knew that it was important to ensure he received medical treatment quickly. He contacted the ambulance service again and was informed that an ambulance would be dispatched.

When an ambulance reached Alexander around four hours later his blood pressure was dangerously low and he was in septic shock with a temperature in excess of 39°C.  

He suffered serious complications and spent 14 days in ICU and hospital with significant follow ups arranged due to the impact septic shock had on his organs. Fortunately, Alexander has made a good recovery from his illness but his experience raises serious concerns about the 999 service's ability to recognise the signs of sepsis and the delayed response times of the emergency services.

Responding to sepsis and the signs to look out for

Early response to sepsis is vital to ensure good outcomes and it is all too common to see the devastating effects sepsis can have on individuals, including the amputation of limbs, in the news.

The UK Sepsis Trust estimates that 40 per cent of all sepsis survivors experience permanent and life-changing after effects. This does not include the traumatic impact the condition has on family members of the mental impact on survivors.

If someone has one or more of the symptoms of sepsis, don’t wait, call 999 and ask “Could it be sepsis?”

The main symptoms of sepsis are:

  • 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

As a medical negligence solicitor I see first-hand the awful impact that delayed diagnosis of sepsis can have on patient outcomes. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by sepsis at our dedicated medical negligence section.

Sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it attacks our body’s own organs and tissues. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.”