Doctors should listen to parents to help identify children at risk of sepsis

28th March 2017 Clinical Negligence

Sepsis is a very hot topic in the NHS at the moment as it works to reduce the thousands of preventable deaths from the condition every year. Sepsis, a severe reaction by the body to an infection, is as treatable as it is dangerous but fast diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics is key.

The signs are too often missed by medical professionals leading to death and serious injury and the medical negligence team at JMW is handling several cases on behalf of patients and families where this has occurred. It's a sad fact that a hospital attendance that started as something fairly routine can turn into something much more serious because adequate checks were not done or the signs of sepsis were not interpreted correctly.

The government appears to be taking the issue very seriously and on Mother's Day Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt attended a memorial service for a one-year-old baby who died to apologise publicly for the NHS failures in his care.

In an unprecedented step Mr Hunt attended the service for William Mead and said he had been let down by the government and NHS after GPs, 111 call handlers and out-of-hours services all failed to act on signs that he was becoming dangerously ill (Telegraph). An inquest found the baby's death could have been avoided if he had been admitted to hospital.

Sepsis can affect anyone but babies and children are particularly vulnerable due to the immaturity of their immune systems. Medical professionals do have tough decisions to make when dealing with poorly children as illness is a common recurrence and the very early signs of a severe infection, such as a high temperature, not eating and drinking and being very unsettled are fairly vague. In many cases the child will recover but it is an inescapable fact that in some the decision not to admit the child to hospital will have catastrophic consequences.

A recurrent theme in the cases JMW is dealing with is a failure to heed the parents' concerns and the fact they have made sought medical advice numerous times. A parent's instinct that their child is unwell to an extent that is abnormal for them should not be overlooked. Repeated attempts to get help is a key indicator of a deteriorating situation and should flick a warning switch in the minds of doctors as much as the checklist of physical symptoms.

Parents are the experts when it comes to what is normal for their child and medical professionals should not always assume that they know better. Listening to parents could prevent many of the sepsis tragedies and that is something I would urge the NHS to do more of.

For more information about the signs and symptoms of sepsis visit the NHS website page dedicated to this.


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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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