Posted on 15/01/2018 by
Sepsis – also known as blood poisoning – kills more people than bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. It affects more than 260,000 people and claims 44,000 lives every year in the UK. But it is not spoken about in training for social care workers, even though they are increasingly likely to see it.
Sepsis is triggered when the body tries to overcompensate for an underlying infection and too many white blood cells are released into the bloodstream. An example you may see in the social care context is kidney and chest infections. It looks like common flu in the early stages, but it can lead to life-threatening septic shock.
There is a golden hour for the treatment of sepsis, when someone can be saved by basic steps known as the “sepsis six”. Although there is no standard training, there are some symptoms care professionals can look for in a client:
- Are they sleepy?
- Is their breathing rapid or shallow?
- Do they have a raised temperature?
- Is their complexion mottled?
- Do they seem confused, distracted or agitated?
- Have they spoken of feeling the worst they have ever felt?
Taking their temperature at home may be the best indication of whether someone has sepsis until a medical professional is available, but you should try to get the person to a medic as soon as possible after identifying the symptoms.
Most importantly, when you speak to the medic, follow the “just ask” protocol; ask if they think it could be sepsis and give a good, rounded history of the individual. If you are not familiar with the patient, a synopsis of their medical condition should be placed at the front of their care plan.
One of the occasions when I had sepsis offers a pertinent example of why care workers should be aware of the condition’s symptoms. I had been feeling ill for a couple of hours and had told my care workers. They said we should see how it goes – and went back to their mobile phones. This continued until my husband returned from work and, within minutes, he noticed that I was pale and flushed and that my head was nodding. He touched my cheeks and realised I had a temperature – 39.9 degrees at that point. Paul called for an ambulance and asked the paramedics if it could be sepsis; they immediately started to check for the signs using the “sepsis six”.
I spent four weeks in hospital, with a stay in intensive care on high impact antibiotics. I was told that if Paul had not acted so decisively and asked the correct questions, that I may not have received the correct treatment that saved my life. Coincidentally, Paul and I met in hospital when we were both being treated for sepsis.
Please do not underestimate the importance of recognising sepsis and simply asking medics: “Could it be sepsis?” And if you’ve had sepsis before, tell those caring for you about your history – sepsis can and does come back often.
• Damian Bridgeman is a social entrepreneur, disability rights activist, and board member of Social Care Wales. He is speaking at an event on this topic in London on 18 January. For more information on sepsis, visit the Sepsis Trust