East of England 999 software risks missing sepsis

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Illustration showing bacteria moving through the blood.Image copyright
Getty Images

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Sepsis sees the body’s immune system attack organs

Limitations in software being used by some ambulance call handlers means there is a “significant risk” signs of sepsis are being missed.

The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) said it was working with suppliers so extra questions could identify a patient with sepsis.

A report found one patient who called 999 should have been flagged as a risk.

Instead of sending a ambulance, the patient was told to go to their GP or make their own way to hospital.

The patient was later found to have an immune condition and bacterial infection and had to spend seven days in hospital.

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PA

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The EEAS established there was “no specific protocol” in 999 software for identifying sepsis

The EEAS looked at the case, which happened in December 2018, and established there was “no specific protocol” in 999 software for identifying sepsis, also referred to as blood poisoning.

“There is a significant risk of not being able to identify this group of patients during the initial 999 phone call,” the report presented to the EEAS board meeting on Wednesday found.

The report said the trust is now seeking to “ensure key phrases or symptoms, such as a high temperature or ongoing treatment, are included in the guidance for call handlers”.

Dr Ron Daniels, NHS intensive care clinician and founder of the UK Sepsis Trust, said: “Complex critical conditions such as sepsis should be afforded the same priority as chest pains by call handlers.

“The level of training of call handlers can be variable and no computer protocol can replace a face-to-face examination, but we would be delighted to work with the EEAS to improve training.”


‘Sepsis leaves no time’

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Media captionSepsis survivor urges more awareness of symptoms

Sepsis is a condition when the body’s immune system – which is meant to fight against disease and infection – starts to attack the body’s own organs.

It can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can at first appear to be flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection.

Jess Tuffield contracted sepsis when she caught a chest infection.

The 23-year-old survived a total of two bouts of the potentially-fatal condition, which can cause catastrophic organ failure.

She’s now urging others to be aware of the symptoms.


The EEAS said it was working with the software providers to develop a specific telephone screening tool.

“While this development is ongoing, we have introduced a standard operation procedure to help call handlers identify patients with neutropenic sepsis and are developing other tools to support the screening of sepsis symptoms,” the statement added.

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