Man who lost limbs to sepsis warns nurses need more training

22 May 2019, 02:59 | Updated: 22 May 2019, 09:55

A man who lost all of his limbs and part of his face to sepsis has called for nurses to receive mandatory training on how to diagnose the disease.

Tom Ray was a fit and healthy 38-year-old when he contracted the potentially fatal condition in 1999, having suffered a cut to his gum during a trip to the dentist and then a chest infection.

His sepsis came on quickly, leading to vomiting, a high temperature and then a three-month-long coma, from which he awoke without his arms and legs and unable to recognise his wife Nicola.

Mr Ray - whose family lost their business and had to sell their home because of his illness - said doctors missed "the classic signs of sepsis" before his condition deteriorated and will warn nurses at a conference on Wednesday that they must not miss telling signs of the disease.

His speech at the Royal College Of Nursing (RCN) comes on the same day as a damning report into how the disease is too often missed by medical professionals.

The UK Sepsis Trust has said that thousands of children have died needlessly due to delays of more than a decade in introducing a nationally agreed checklist of symptoms.

Disagreements between NHS bosses means progress has been "very slow" to bring in a standardised system to alert doctors and nurses to children who are becoming gravely ill, and many have died or been left with life-changing disabilities as a result.

NHS data shows there were 26,725 cases of sepsis in children under-five in 2015 in England and the UK Sepsis Trust says between 1,000 and 4,000 children in that age bracket die every year in the UK from the condition.

One in four survivors are left with life-altering health problems like Mr Ray, who has said he was "put into a side ward and left to die" because doctors who saw him "didn't know what was wrong with me".

In his address to the RCN, he will say: "Poor outcomes for patients are equally dramatic for staff, friends and family and they will continue to happen if nursing staff are over-stretched, under-trained and unsupported.

"My own experience has placed huge strain on myself, my family and my carers - and it should never have happened.

"Damage and even death from sepsis will continue until there is a commitment to educate all staff to give every patient the care and attention that is needed to spot and treat sepsis as fast as possible."

Mr Ray - whose ordeal inspired the 2016 film Starfish - was not diagnosed soon enough even though there is an NHS sepsis symptom checklist for adults, but there is not a centralised document for children.

NHS Trusts instead rely on their own systems for diagnosing youngsters, checking temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and other signs, such as urination, skin colour and rash.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the RCN, said an NHS-wide checklist for children could save lives.

"Sepsis in a child is so sudden, you see a child go from life to death," she said.

"You might think it's flu, you might think it's a cold, but an hour later you have a child with no way of saving. By the time they have developed the stark symptoms of sepsis there's no way you can come back from that."

As well as disabilities, sepsis survivors can also be left with other long-term physical and psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Celia Ingham Clark, medical director for professional leadership and clinical effectiveness at NHS England, said work was ongoing to improve how sepsis is diagnosed.

"The NHS has made huge improvements in spotting and treating sepsis quickly, with screening rates in emergency departments rising from 78% in 2015 to 91% in 2018," she said.

"The NHS is working with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to develop a national early-warning system for children which will help NHS staff to rapidly identify acutely unwell children and ensure they are looked after in the most appropriate place."

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