A TOP consultant said hospital staff have responded well to changes that were imposed after the death of a patient.

Dr Paul Dean said Royal Blackburn Hospital staff were determined to learn from the mistakes identified in the case of 59-year-old Maureen McDonald, who died last December after nurses failed to recognise she was at risk of a severe sepsis.

She had been receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer, which made her vulnerable to a neutropaenic sepsis by suppressing her immune system.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has since admitted several failings and implemented an action plan to identify similar patients in future.

Speaking ahead of World Sepsis Day, on September 13, Dr Dean hopes to continue raising awareness among doctors, nurses and patients about the severe consequences of failing to spot the signs of the condition.

Dr Dean, the Trust’s lead medic for sepsis, said it was one of the most difficult conditions to foresee, but said early recognition was crucial to survival.

He added: “Neutropaenic sepsis is difficult to recognise, because you may feel entirely normal (due to the lack of reaction from your immune system), which means these patients are particularly vulnerable. The public’s perception is that medicine is straightforward, but actually it’s very difficult because everything’s on a continuum and not necessarily black and white. But people do learn through these cases. There’s never a negative reaction and we’ve followed the action plan.”

As well as the lessons learned by staff, Dr Dean said it was crucial for patients to be more aware of the risks, as many arrive at hospital when it is too late.

He added: “We know that mortality is related to delays in treatment, and if the patient has sat at home for 24 hours with serious problems then we’re 24 hours behind.

“Older people especially can be very stoical, but sepsis is a condition where the deaths exceed those from lung, breast and bowel cancer combined, so it needs to be taken seriously.”

He said part of the problem is that sepsis is a generic term and difficult to define, often causing confusion, but he added there have been vast improvements at ELHT in the past few years and the trust now performs ‘well’.

Dr Dean is also ‘convinced’ that a new 24-hour ERCP service, which was introduced last year to treat biliary tract infections and avoid sepsis, is saving lives.

l For details of World Sepsis day go to www.world-sepsis-day.org / SEPSIS * Sepsis is a common and potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection.

* The body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting, which can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can mean the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.

* If not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death. More than 100,000 people are admitted to UK hospitals with sepsis each year and around 37,000 people die.

* Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include a high temperature (fever), chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and fast breathing.