The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is advising health professionals to treat sepsis with the same urgency as a heart attack.
NICE has issued guidelines that direct all health workers to treat the signs of sepsis in the same way that they treat chest pains as a potential heart attack.
As the first national evidence based guideline of its kind, all health professionals will now have to consider sepsis when treating all patients with an infection.
According to the UK Sepsis Trust, there are around 150,000 cases of sepsis in the UK each year, causing approximately 44,000 deaths.
Sepsis occurs when the immune system becomes overactive during an infection, causing damage to the body itself.
Initial symptoms are vague and include rapid breathing and generally feeling unwell.
However, if left untreated, sepsis can lead to shock, organ failure and death.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practioners (RCGP), said: “The diagnosis of sepsis is a huge worry for GPs as initial symptoms can be similar to common viral illnesses so we welcome any guidance or support to help us identify it as early as possible.
“Sepsis is one of the College’s Spotlight projects until April 2017, and as part of this programme we will be working with NHS England and Health Education England to help improve the outcomes from sepsis, particularly in collaboration with colleagues across the NHS to reduce deaths from sepsis each year across the UK.”
A report by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death found last year that there were delays in identifying sepsis in 36% of patients.
Professor Saul Faust from the University of Southampton and chair of the group that developed the NICE guideline said: “Anyone can succumb to sepsis. It can come on as the result of a minor injury or infection that the body is trying to recover from and the immune system goes into overdrive.
“Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose with certainty. We want clinicians to start asking ‘could this be sepsis?’ much earlier on so they can rule it out or get people the treatment they need.
“The thinking should be similar to considering that chest pain could be heart related. Just like most people with chest pain are not having a heart attack, the majority of people with an infection will not have sepsis. But if it isn’t considered then the diagnosis can be missed.”
The guideline advises those at high-risk of sepsis in primary care should be referred by ambulance to hospital and once there they should be seen by a senior doctor or nurse immediately.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the NICE Centre for Guidelines said: “Once identified, sepsis can be treated very quickly and people are more likely to make a full recovery.
“We know that when hospitals are well prepared, clinicians do better at responding to patients with sepsis. However recent reports have revealed that many hospitals have no formal protocols for recognising and responding to sepsis.
“If there is any delay in spotting the signs we will fail patients by leaving them with debilitating problems or in the worst cases people will die.
“This guideline will be the first to provide advice based on the best available evidence on how to quickly identify and treat people with sepsis.”