Lord Grade: We must use better data to counter the increasing mortality rates of sepsis in the UK
We cannot change the number of people who develop sepsis, as it is not preventable, but we can significantly reduce the number of people who lose their lives or suffer life-altering after-effects by using better data to anticipate risk, says Lord Grade.
On Wednesday 30th January I have a question tabled in the House of Lords about sepsis and the Government’s plan to use interlinked datasets to help prevent sepsis, severe infections and antimicrobial resistance. Sepsis is a cause very close to my heart, after seeing a close colleague develop this life threatening condition from a burst appendix which left her fighting for her life.
Sepsis is the reaction to an infection in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues. With early diagnosis, the condition can be treated with antibiotics but, if not spotted and dealt with quickly, it can rapidly lead to organ failure and death.
The numbers are staggering: every year in the UK 250,000 people are affected by sepsis; 52,000 people die from sepsis – more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined – and 60,000 people suffer life-changing after-effects. But the UK Sepsis Trust, a national charity, estimates that better awareness could save 14,000 lives a year in the UK. Current practice for diagnosis and treatment could be costing the NHS as much as £2.8 billion and the UK economy up to £15.6 billion annually (York Health Economics Consortium Report, February 2017).
Mortality rates from sepsis are increasing in the UK and are worse than in many other European countries. So, it is unarguable that something must be done. Raising awareness among the public and healthcare professionals is a start but it is not enough.
We were therefore encouraged to read that the need to address this on a national scale has been recognised in the Government’s 5-year plan for tackling antimicrobial resistance, published on 24th January 2019. This is undoubtedly significant and there is no question that the next step towards ending many preventable deaths will involve the smart use of interlinked, or interoperable, datasets. In layman’s terms if we can truly join up and share data across the diverse NHS systems we will be able to improve our understanding of how sepsis and severe infection are defined, diagnosed and treated for different patient cohorts. This in turn will provide evidence to allow better decision making leading to improved outcomes for patients and the NHS.
We will also understand which patient groups benefit from urgent antimicrobials and when it is safe to wait for more information before beginning treatment. The fact is that, for people with sepsis, every hour that passes before antibiotics are administered, increases the likelihood of death. Being able to use this data to identify those most at risk could mean the difference between life and death.
I should like to thank the Secretary of State for Health for making this a priority and urge him to continue to support and guide the process as and when needed. We all know that this will be a challenging project and by no means easily executed. I would also urge that not-for-profit organisations, such as the UK Sepsis Trust, are encouraged and supported to play their part in its delivery.
We cannot change the number of people who develop sepsis, as it is not preventable, but we CAN significantly reduce the number of people who lose their lives or suffer life-altering after-effects by using better data to anticipate risk.
Lord Grade is a Conservative member of the House of Lords.