Sepsis misdiagnosis

Negligence claims for misdiagnosis of sepsis have quadrupled in last five years

37,000 lives each year are at risk from a serious condition called sepsis and this figure counts for the UK population alone. However, sepsis has never been in the forefront of public awareness. Until more recently, sepsis has been under reported in the media and there is a lack of attention in relation to the threat of sepsis, some would say alarmingly so given how many people suffer from it each year. In comparison to for example cancer, more people tragically die every year from sepsis which is more than breast, lung and bowel cancer combined. Crucially however, sepsis can largely be treated if caught in time.

The difficulty with sepsis is that it can develop from many different bugs in the body and it is the body’s reaction to this that causes harm. Every day we are exposed to bacteria, which usually does not cause us to become ill. Many people can have ‘mild’ sepsis which can make them feel ill but doesn’t require treatment in hospital. Mild sepsis can result from chest infections, urine infections, skin injuries, cuts, bites and other minor illnesses. However, if the body responds abnormally to a bacteria or infection this causes the body to release chemicals to fight the infection which causes inflammation within cells in the body. If left untreated the infection can cause septic shock as the inflammation causes tiny blood clots to form, blocking oxygen from vital organs and leading to organ failure and a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.

Having severe sepsis also carries long term morbidities and affects people’s lives. It can cause slower cognitive function, physical disabilities and this has an effect on the ability of someone to work and look after their family. The cost of sepsis is not just the 2 billion pounds it costs the NHS on a yearly basis, but the devastating effect sepsis can have on people’s lives.

The problem is that sepsis symptoms are similar to that of severe flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. This makes diagnosis difficult as symptoms can often be put down to “really bad flu”. Having a rash that won’t go away when pressed under a glass is an easily recognisable and well known symptom, but the more hidden symptoms of sepsis make it a difficult condition to catch early on. Treating sepsis requires the whole healthcare system across departments to respond efficiently and robustly. Patients with progressive sepsis are a time critical emergency that should not be underestimated. Critically, if sepsis is diagnosed it can be treated successfully with intravenous fluids and antibiotics and this is usually in an intensive care unit.

The earlier sepsis is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Problems occur when a patient is seen by a doctor, but dismissed with a case of flu, or a stomach upset and the infection is left to take hold. Common signs and symptoms of sepsis include fever, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and confusion. There may be symptoms related to a wound infection, or a rash (more common with Septicaemia). As severe sepsis is when the organs are affected this can cause insufficient blood flow, which may be apparent from signs such as low blood pressure, high blood lactate or low urine output.

What can I claim?

The value of your claim will depend on a number of factors including:

  • The nature of the injury or illness
  • Whether you (or your child) recover fully from the injury or illness or if it has a long term effect on health and wellbeing
  • The amount of any losses you incur as a result of the injury

You can claim compensation for the following things if they are a result of your injury:

  • Pain, suffering and loss of amenity
  • Loss of earnings
  • Medical and nursing care costs
  • Special equipment needed to carry out daily activities and any costs involved in adapting your home
  • Other expenses incurred as a result of your injury, for example, travel expenses incurred whilst receiving medical treatment.

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James Drydale

James Drydale

Head of Clinical Negligence

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Office: Sheffield

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