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Putting Sepsis back under the spotlight

Written by: Dr Lizzie Sweeting - 13th September 2021

Our Patient Safety Collaborative (PSC) is delivered by the Improvement Academy as part of the Bradford Institute for Health Research. It has five priority areas, including managing deterioration.
Dr Lizzie Sweeting works in the emergency department at Bradford Teaching Hospitals and is the co-lead for the managing deterioration work stream and to mark World Sepsis Day 2021, she has written this blog to bring the life-threatening condition back into the spotlight.

Today (13 September) marks World Sepsis Day 2021, so what better time to discuss why sepsis still matters?

Working in the NHS has always been challenging, but the past 18 months have been extremely hard for me and my colleagues. We have been working tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst trying to maintain the highest standard of care for patients suffering with non-COVID related illnesses.

Sepsis is one of those illnesses. Sepsis affects 245,000 people a year and it kills 48,000 people in the UK each year, according to figures from the UK Sepsis Trust.

In medical terms, sepsis is a life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. In non-medical terms, sepsis is described as a rare but serious reaction to an infection, where the immune system response becomes overactive and starts to cause damage to the body itself.

Sepsis hasn’t disappeared over the past 18 months, and whilst it may have been getting less air-time it still remains a potentially deadly condition. As a doctor who works in an Emergency Department, I have seen patients presenting later in the course of their illnesses as a result of the pandemic. Late presentations and delayed treatment can significantly impact the mortality and morbidity from sepsis, so we need to keep educating ourselves and the general public on the dangers of the illness.

Many of us now know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, but do we know the same about sepsis? Sepsis can present in many and varied ways such as, feeling generally unwell, confusion and/or altered breathing.

We know there was a dip in the number of sepsis diagnosis last year although we still don’t fully understand the reasons why. But, it is now more important than ever to work together to keep sepsis at the forefront of people’s minds, getting them to think about whether an illness could be sepsis and make sure we screen patients.

My experience is that sepsis is diagnosed later in those who can’t express how they feel – the very young, people with a learning disability and the elderly with cognitive impairment.  This links in well with our other work in the social care sector, supporting domiciliary and care home colleagues, around how to recognise deterioration using softer signs tools.

In Yorkshire and Humber, we believe in the power of networking and as part of the Yorkshire & Humber Patient Safety Collaborative, we host an informal  Sepsis Network. This network has existed for over five years and consists of colleagues with a passion for making a difference to sepsis care. The network is open to anyone supporting improvements in sepsis care, meeting quarterly with the aim of accelerating improvements to sepsis care by:

  • Sharing and problem solving and therefore reducing time and duplication of effort
  • Learning what works and what doesn’t from each other
  • Learning from best practice in the region and nationally

Whether you’re a doctor, nurse or any other healthcare professional, we would welcome anyone with a passion for tackling the condition. Anyone interested in joining the Yorkshire & Humber Sepsis Network, please email or