After delivering a talk to a group of students, during which I had briefly mentioned sepsis, I was approached by one of the tutors.
“I was listening to what you said about sepsis,” she said. “I want to say thank you because now I think I finally know what my mother died from.”
This person was a nurse tutor and therefore could be presumed to have a reasonable knowledge of physiology and disease processes, and yet she had never heard of sepsis. This isn’t a surprise. Sepsis is largely unknown both to the public and also, worryingly, to healthcare professionals.
And yet every 3 seconds worldwide someone will die of sepsis. In the UK this biggest least known killer is estimated to cause the deaths of 37,000 people annually. Scaled down for population size this indicates that in Wales sepsis is responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,800 people at a cost of £125m every year.
Moreover, sepsis is not a problem that is confined to the hospital environment. Some excellent work by the Welsh Ambulance Service indicates that possibly as many as 10% of people who are brought into hospital by ambulance have sepsis, primarily from community acquired respiratory infections
The 1000 Lives Plus programme has enabled Welsh clinicians to make considerable progress in the identification, escalation and rapid treatment of sepsis. All Welsh healthcare organisations have participated in the Rapid Response to Acute Illness Learning Set (RRAILS) and successes have included the introduction in all hospitals of the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) and sepsis screening.
The dedication that now exists in Wales to reduce deaths from sepsis could be seen at a recent RRAILS Study Day which was attended by 55 nurses, doctors, resuscitation officers, midwives, paramedics and pharmacists representing all Welsh healthcare organisations. They are representative of a social movement that has grown in NHS Wales with the aim of reducing death from acute deterioration and sepsis.
Our speakers at the day, like the attendees, were people for whom the fight against sepsis was more than a job. They were Ron Daniels, chair of the UK Sepsis Trust and the Global Sepsis Alliance who has described sepsis as his life’s work, Chris Subbe, the RRAILS clinical lead who is internationally recognised as an expert in rapid response to acute illness and Terence Canning, who moved back to Wales after his brother’s death from sepsis, to devote his time as a a Trustee of the UK Sepsis Trust to raising awareness of the illness.
One of Terence’s remarks has really stuck with me. He said “It’s not like cancer where you are searching for a cure, you know the cure, but you just need to make sure it’s done”
What he was referring to was the ‘Sepsis Six’, the six simple actions, including giving antibiotics, which should happen within one hour of sepsis being recognised. Research indicates that increasing the reliability with which sepsis is detected and the sepsis six delivered saves lives.
Terence’s words are a challenge to all of us working in NHS Wales – we have the knowledge to treat sepsis and beat sepsis. But we need to do it.
Chris Hancock is the Programme Manager for the Rapid Response to Acute Illness Learning Set (RRAILS) programme. Twitter: @chris23han
Healthcare organisations will be taking part in World Sepsis Day, Friday 13 September 2013.