More help needed to spot and act on sepsis, say nurses as they call for an national early-warning system for children

Press Release 22/05/2019

Health care staff and the public must be educated on the signs of sepsis to save tens of thousands of lives lost each year, nurses will say today.

Nurses at the Royal College of Nursing annual Congress in Liverpool will hear from sepsis survivor Tom Ray.

In his keynote address, Ray, who is a quadruple amputee as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment of sepsis, will tell delegates that nurses must be supported to identify and treat sepsis.

Tom Ray, joined by his wife and carer Nic and their clinician Pippa Bagnall, will call for mandatory training for all members of the nursing and midwifery professions and ask frontline nurses to take inspiration from their campaign to improve patient care.  

Sepsis kills five people every hour in the UK and affects 25,000 children each year, according to the Sepsis Trust.

Bagnall, a former NHS chief executive, will compare the multi-billion pound cost of treating sepsis to the cost of introducing short mandatory training for professionals.

In the debate, nurses will join Tom Ray in calling for nationwide rollout of a new system to identify deterioration in child patients being treated in hospitals and other settings. Elements of the scheme which monitor children’s vital signs, including heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and temperature have been tested at specialist institutions including Great Ormond Street.

At present, there is not a universal, nationally-validated system in England despite key profile child deaths. It would enable signs of deterioration in any patient’s condition to be identified and acted upon quickly. 

A uniform Paediatric Early Warning Sign Score (PEWS) system for children in England would mirror the National Early Warning Score for adults being rolled out since last year.

Speaking ahead of the speech and debate, Tom Ray said:  

“Poor outcomes for patients are equally dramatic for staff, friends and family and they will continue to happen if nursing staff are over stretched, under trained and unsupported. My own experience has placed huge strain on myself, my family and my carers – and it should never have happened. 

“Damage and even death from sepsis will continue until there is a commitment to educate all staff to give every patient the care and attention that is needed to spot and treat sepsis as fast as possible.”

Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people at the RCN said:

“Nurses have been calling for a national standardised PEWS system for children for over ten years now. Progress on delivering this has been too slow.”

Rose Gallagher, professional lead for infection prevention and control at the RCN said:

“Without the right number of nurses with the right training, we will struggle to identify and manage potential cases of sepsis – and we must have better public awareness to help people recognise the potential symptoms of sepsis and seek help quickly.

"Patients who survive sepsis are also left with long-term physical and psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, fatigue, decreased cognitive function, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Life can be challenging not only for patients but also for their families. The services to support these patients varies across the country and there is a need for properly-resourced follow up services to support their emotional, psychological and physical rehabilitation needs. “

Pippa Bagnall, a former NHS Chief Executive and Fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute said:

“Investment in nursing staff education shouldn’t be seen as a cost – it’s an investment that everyone benefits from.  Two hours of training for each nursing professional could massively reduce the £15 billion cost of sepsis to the NHS. “


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