Thousands of children are dying needlessly amid a lack of standardised checks for signs of deadly sepsis, campaigners have warned.
The Royal College of Nursing today urged health chiefs to introduce an early warning system across the health service, warning that cases are being missed because the NHS has been too slow to act.
Every year, up to 27,000 children aged five and under are diagnosed with sepsis, a life-threatening complication of infection. Estimates suggest that up to 4,000 die every year from the condition.
Hospitals are under strict instructions to follow a checklist to identify signs of the deadly killer in adults – with fines if too many cases are missed.
But the RCN said the health service has been too slow to bring in any system to help ensure cases are detected in younger patients, where the infection tends to be even more deadly.
Melissa Mead, whose son William died of sepsis in 2014 aged 12 months, said the delays were costing lives.
She said: “Thousands of children have died or suffered disability while health organisations continue to drag their heels and can’t make a decision.
“More children will continue to die. Whose child will it be that pushes them over the edge? Will it be their child or grandchild?”
Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, said progress on launching a national system had been “too slow”.
She said: “Nurses have been calling for this for a very long time, for over a decade.”
The system would mean all health workers use a standard checklist to monitor children’s vital signs like heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure and temperature. The adult system cannot be used with children because measures such as heart rate and blood pressure readings vary with age and size.
Symptoms of sepsis in children include rapid breathing, convulsions, vomiting, very pale or mottled skin and feeling cold to the touch.
Tom Ray, from Rutland, was 38 when an infection led to sepsis, causing him to lose his lower legs, arms and part of his face.
The father of two, who will speak at today’s congress, said: “Damage and even death from sepsis will continue until there is a commitment to educate all staff to give every patient the care and attention that is needed to spot and treat sepsis as fast as possible.”
Celia Ingham Clark from NHS England and Improvement, said: “The NHS has made huge improvements in spotting and treating sepsis quickly with screening rates in emergency departments rising from 78 per cent in 2015 to 91 per cent in 2018.
“The NHS is working with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to develop a national early-warning system for children which will help NHS staff to rapidly identify acutely unwell children and ensure they are looked after in the most appropriate place.”