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Sepsis often missed as 50% of screening tools don’t work, study finds

Paramedics and A&E doctors often miss signs of sepsis and two of the four ways health professionals screen for the killer condition do not work, a new study claims.

Doctors, NHS bosses and health charities have been concerned for years that too many cases of sepsis go undiagnosed, leaving people badly damaged or dead, because sepsis is so hard to detect.

Unless a patient is diagnosed quickly, their body’s immune system goes into overdrive in response to an infection and then attacks vital tissues and organs. If left untreated, sepsis can cause shock, organ failure and death.

Research from Germany, presented at this week’s European Emergency Medicine Congress in Barcelona, claims to have uncovered significant flaws in two of the four screening tools that health workers use worldwide to identify cases of the life-threatening illness.

The four systems are NEWS2 (National Early Warning Score), qSOFA (quick Sequential Organ Failure Assessment), MEWS (Modified Early Warning Score) and SIRS (Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome).

The researchers analysed records of the care given to 221,429 patients in Germany who were treated by emergency health workers outside hospital settings in 2016.

“Only one of four screening tools had a reasonably accurate prediction rate for sepsis – NEWS2. It was able to correctly predict 72.2% of all sepsis cases and correctly identified 81.4% of negative, non-septic cases,” they concluded.

NHS England stressed that it already deploys NEWS2, which emerged as the best system.

An NHS spokesperson said: “This study shows the NHS actually is using the best screening tool available for detecting sepsis – NEWS2 – and as professional guidance for doctors in England sets out, it is essential that any patient’s wishes to seek a second opinion are respected.”

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Source: Guardian, 20 September 2023


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