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Thousands could be saved from sepsis after major trial of monitoring system is ‘success’


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Thousands of lives will be saved by a revolutionary digital system which alerts doctors to cases of sepsis, a study suggests.

Three leading NHS hospitals have pioneered technology which monitors patients’ vital signs and automatically triggers an alert to doctors if sepsis is suspected.

Experts analysed data of more than 27,000 patients who triggered the sepsis alert system after arriving at A&E or being admitted to a ward.

They compared the outcome of these patients with those who arrived at hospital with similar symptoms but received standard care and did not benefit from the new technology.

Three leading NHS hospitals have pioneered technology which monitors patients’ vital signs and automatically triggers an alert to doctors if sepsis is suspected

The study by Imperial College London found the technology reduced the risk of death by 24 per cent, and increased the chance of patients receiving antibiotics quickly by 35 per cent.

The trial, conducted between 2016 and 2018, is the first to evaluate the benefits of the alert system in NHS hospitals. Other trusts are being encouraged to adopt similar tools.

Dr Anne Kinderlerer, co-author of the study, said: ‘The alert has made a significant impact on identifying more cases of sepsis and reducing the number of patients who die in hospital as a result.

Experts analysed data of more than 27,000 patients who triggered the sepsis alert system after arriving at A&E or being admitted to a ward

Experts analysed data of more than 27,000 patients who triggered the sepsis alert system after arriving at A&E or being admitted to a ward

‘More patients are surviving sepsis at our hospitals. Our plan is now to roll this alert system out across the Trust in different health specialities so that we can further reduce the toll and impact that sepsis has on our patients.’

There are 250,000 cases of sepsis in the UK each year and it claims 44,000 lives, meaning one in six patients will die.

The Mail has been campaigning to improve the care of patients with sepsis since 2016.

The deadly blood poisoning occurs when the body over-reacts to an everyday infection or virus. It is commonly triggered by a skin infection, chest infection, pneumonia or the flu.

The illness is notoriously difficult to diagnose and patients’ risk of death significantly increases for every hour they are not given antibiotics.

The only way for doctors to diagnose sepsis is to closely monitor patients’ breathing, temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen and alertness.

But many patients are seen by different doctors and nurses, meaning no one health professional is looking at all the measurements together and sepsis cases can go undetected until it is too late.

However the new technology uses algorithms to read patients’ vital signs and alert medics to worsening conditions that are a warning sign of sepsis.

It was trialled in the emergency departments as well as acute and haematology wards at St Mary’s Hospital, Charing Cross Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital.

Similar systems have saved hundreds of lives at hospitals in Cambridge and Liverpool, but until now there have been no clinical trials to evaluate their success.

Dr Kate Honeyford, from the Global Digital Health Unit at Imperial College London and lead author of the research, said: ‘Sepsis can be deadly if it’s not diagnosed and treated quickly. 

‘However, symptoms can be hard to spot and are similar to other conditions such as flu or a chest infection, which can result in delayed diagnosis and treatments.

‘Often digital systems are implemented but research on their performance is not done. 

‘Our study shows for the first time that robust analysis of a digital alert system was associated with improvements in outcomes for patients and the system presents an opportunity to improve care for patients who may have sepsis.’ 

Dr Ron Daniels, CEO of The UK Sepsis Trust, said: ‘Any kind of technology which can reduce the risk of rapid deterioration should be embraced, and systems which monitor patient condition and automate the alerting of responders offer a vital safeguard and could change the number of lives lost to sepsis.’ 

Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer at NHSX, said: ‘As an emergency medicine consultant, I know first-hand how helpful these technologies can be on a busy shift to alert you to a deteriorating patient who might have sepsis and offering the best possible chance of saving their life.

‘As we continue to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan, many parts of the country are using world class technology to save more lives.’

WHAT IS SEPSIS? 

Sepsis occurs when the body reacts to an infection by attacking its own organs and tissues.

Some 44,000 people die from sepsis every year in the UK. Worldwide, someone dies from the condition every 3.5 seconds. 

Sepsis has similar symptoms to flu, gastroenteritis and a chest infection.

These include:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you are dying
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

Symptoms in children are:

  • Fast breathing
  • Fits or convulsions
  • Mottled, bluish or pale skin
  • Rashes that do not fade when pressed
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling abnormally cold

Under fives may be vomiting repeatedly, not feeding or not urinating for 12 hours. 

Anyone can develop sepsis but it is most common in people who have recently had surgery, have a urinary catheter or have stayed in hospital for a long time.

Other at-risk people include those with weak immune systems, chemotherapy patients, pregnant women, the elderly and the very young.

Treatment varies depending on the site of the infection but involves antibiotics, IV fluids and oxygen, if necessary.

Source: UK Sepsis Trust and NHS Choices

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