Cases of sepsis in the Highlands has almost doubled in three years: MSP

Highlands and Islands MSP, David Stewart, has discovered that cases of sepsis have almost doubled in the Highlands in the past three years.

Mr Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, submitted a Freedom of Information request to NHS Highland prompted by a constituent’s case.

The health authority said that in 2017 464 were reported, in 2018 it was 596 and 2019, 878.

Anyone can get sepsis, but babies under one, people over 75, people with diabetes, those with a weakened immune system, patients who have recently undergone surgery and women who have just given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion are particularly susceptible.

“These figures are quite staggering for our region, although I am aware that the way sepsis was recorded changed in late 2017, but it is still eye-opening for me to see this increase,” said Mr Stewart.

“The figures give a truer picture of the number of cases which is very concerning.

“Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection and can very hard to spot so I am happy to try to raise awareness in the region.

“I realise there are extensive health staff education programmes on this, but I am keen to raise public awareness so that people can spot the symptoms and if they suspect anyone is affected they can seek medical help immediately.

Mr Stewart said symptoms include blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue; a rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis; difficulty breathing, confusion or slurred speech and in children, a weak, abnormal, high-pitched cry, sleepiness or not showing interest.

Answering the FOI, NHS Highland said that the figures were given as patient discharges from hospitals in its area within the financial year end period, plus any additional deaths in the region.

It stressed sepsis was identified by an international classification of the disease, documented in the medical records and recorded with codes A40 and A41, when found in a discharge from hospital or contributing to the cause of death.

NHS Highland explained that in late 2017 a new procedure was adopted designed to ensure that A40 and A41 were applied and “this resulted in a sudden increase in the coding of sepsis in almost every board area”.

The health authority added: “It is not thought that this sudden increase represents a major shift in incidence of sepsis. There has also been a large effort across NHS Scotland to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis and this heightened awareness may also have contributed to the increase recorded.”

It went on to say other factors may also be an ageing population more vulnerable to infections that commonly lead to sepsis including flu, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Mr Stewart also found out that a trained quality improvement advisor was working in Primary Care supporting GPs, ambulance staff and district nurses in early identification, management and treatment of sepsis.