Treat sepsis as urgently as heart attack, says NICE

PATIENTS showing signs of sepsis should be treated with the same urgency as those with suspected heart attacks, according to new NICE guidance.

It warns NHS health professionals that they should think about the possibility of sepsis in all patients who may have an infection because “sepsis can affect anyone at any time”.

The condition starts when the immune system overreacts to an infection and begins to damage the body itself, leading to organ failure and in extreme cases death. The UK Sepsis Trust estimates there are around 150,000 cases in the UK every year, causing 44,000 deaths annually.

The guidance acknowledges the difficulty in diagnosing sepsis as symptoms can vary from person to person. These can range from a high temperature, to fast heartbeat to a fever or chills. It can often be mistaken for common infections like flu.

It emphasises that quick identification and early treatment are key. Doctors are urged to start asking "could this be sepsis?" earlier on "so they rule it out or get people on treatment as soon as possible".

A report published last year found that in more than a third of cases (36 per cent) there were delays in identifying sepsis and that many hospitals had no formal protocols in place to recognise it.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the NICE Centre for Guidelines, said: "When hospitals are well prepared, clinicians do better at responding to patients with sepsis.

"If there is any delay in spotting the signs we will fail patients by leaving them with debilitating problems or in the worst cases people will die."

The NICE guidance details signs and symptoms clinicians should look out and describes the tests that should be used to diagnose and monitor patients. It breaks symptoms down by severity and describes where the person should be treated.

High-risk patients, NICE says, should be rushed to hospital in an ambulance. Once there, they should be seen by a senior doctor or nurse immediately so that treatment can be started. Antibiotics should be given to patient who meet the high-risk criteria set out in the guidance.

The UK Sepsis Trust is now working with NICE to update their range of clinical toolkits in response to the guidance.

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