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Hospitals Fail To Detect And Treat Infection In Time

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23rd February 2015

A “series of errors” and “substandard care” led to two elderly patients losing their life to sepsis, a potentially fatal infection, at two different hospitals in south east England, according to a health service report.

In the first case, an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found there had been a failure to promptly recognise a patient’s symptoms despite several hospital tests, while in the second case, mistakes were made in the subsequent standard of treatment and care.

Pain increasing

A 62-year old woman, who first attended a London NHS trust hospital complaining of abdominal pain and blood in her urine was discharged following “inconclusive” tests. Despite the pain increasing, it was only after several return visits did the hospital agree to admit the patient for exploratory surgery. However, by now her condition had considerably deteriorated and she died before the operation could take place.

The Ombudsman found that a series of errors at the hospital had caused the patient to lose her life. The medical staff initially made mistakes in adequately assessing the woman's condition. There was then a failure to promptly treat with appropriate antibiotics or to take enough steps to prevent the blood from clotting before surgery. The Ombudsman also said the patient should not have been discharged after her admissions.

Condition not recognised

In the second case, an Ombudsman investigation reported that a 77-year-old man who was admitted to a hospital in Surrey with several health problems received care during the initial period, but which “did not meet the expected standard.” The elderly patient’s condition was not recognised for more than two hours until he was seen by a doctor. Suspecting sepsis, antibiotics were finally administered four hours after admission but the treatment arrived too late to save the patient’s life.

Older patients are most commonly at risk of sepsis when infection-fighting chemicals released into the bloodstream trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. Damage can cause a failure of multiple organ systems and if sepsis progresses to septic shock, a dramatic drop in blood pressure may lead to death.

Early detection and prompt treatment of sepsis, usually with antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids, improves chances of survival.