Cases of sepsis in Norfolk nearly double in three years

Stock photo of a nurse on a ward. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Stock photo of a nurse on a ward. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The number of cases of the life-threatening infection sepsis in Norfolk hospitals has risen by more than 70pc in the last three years.

Figures from NHS Digital revealed the rise in admissions across Norfolk's three acute hospitals since 2015 - with the county's community trust the only one to see a drop.

The data showed in 2015/16 there were 3,930 cases across the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn, and Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC).

But this rocketed to 6,715 in 2017/18, partly due to a change in how the infection was recorded by officials.

All hospitals saw a rise - both the QEH and JPUH saw rates more than double during that time. And the JPUH's director of nursing Julia Hunt warned the condition was "one of the biggest killers - with more deaths per year in the UK from it than deaths attributed to bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined".

Julia Hunt, director of nursing at the James Paget HospitalByline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 20

Julia Hunt, director of nursing at the James Paget HospitalByline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

She said: "When identifying sepsis set observations are the key, so a new form was created on the back of the hospital's observation chart with simple tick boxes to identify red flag symptoms and help recognise the condition. If any one of the key factors are identified it is escalated. We have also empowered our nurses to be able to administer the antibiotics if sepsis is suspected, giving them and doctors the opportunity to intervene quickly, as giving antibiotics within 60 minutes can save lives."

Commenting on national figures which showed a similar trend Dr Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said several factors were behind the figures.

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This included an increased awareness, and all Norfolk hospitals have had a focus on staff recognising the infection.

But he also said antibiotic resistance was fuelling the rise. He said: "A decade or two ago, infections such as urinary tract infections would be controlled by simple antibiotics - not so today.

"If the antibiotic doesn't begin to control the infection, it may become more complicated - ideal breeding grounds for the onset of sepsis. A simple urinary tract infection could develop into a complex case in which the kidneys are also involved."

Dr Michael Irvine, consultant in intensive care medicine at NNUH, said 93pc of patients with sepsis got antibiotics within an hour of diagnosis.

He added: "To drive our commitment to sepsis care we have appointed a specialist sepsis nurse, introduced sepsis emergency kits to speed up the treatment and we have revised our inpatient sepsis screening as part of our implementation of the national early warning score two), a tool which identifies patient deterioration. We also have a continuous educational programme for medical staff across the NNUH about the importance of timely sepsis management.

"Looking forward we are planning to implement an electronic patient observation system which will help us to identify patients in our hospital who are deteriorating even more quickly."

Chief nurse at the QEH, Libby McManus, said: "Sepsis, which occurs when the body responds poorly to a bacterial infection, can be hard to spot. This is why we have ensured there is a strong awareness of sepsis among the nursing and medical teams at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This awareness is among the reasons why we have seen an increase in the number of diagnosis over the last four years along with national changes in the recording of sepsis.

"Our leading clinicians have worked hard to increase awareness of the symptoms of sepsis in recent years and also use a number of diagnostic tools to ensure that our patients receive fast and appropriate treatment when they arrive at the hospital.

"We are always looking for new ways to improve the care we provide to our patients and so we hold a quarterly audit of cases to pick up any potential learning points."

Venu Harilal, medical director at NCHC - the only trust where rates have dropped - said: "We recognise that the key to improving patient outcomes from sepsis is early identification and prompt treatment. We have therefore developed information for patients and carers which is provided to raise awareness of the signs of sepsis.

"We have implemented training for all of our clinical staff so they are aware of, and trained in, identifying and responding to deterioration and potential sepsis.

"The trust has also implemented the SBARR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Response -Recommendation) tool. This provides a framework for communication between members of the health care team about a patient's condition to support staff to effectively escalate signs of deterioration to enable early treatment. Along with this, we have also equipped key community staff with physiological monitoring equipment."