'We have more to do' - Sheffield Children's Hospital makes detecting sepsis top priority after James' tragic death

Helen Philliskirk lost her son James in May 2022 due to sepsis brought on by a severe Group A Strep skin infection
-Credit: (Image: Helen Philliskirk)

Sheffield Children's Hospital has said its priority for this year and for 2025 is to better detect the potentially fatal condition sepsis.

It comes as a report on improving the quality of services provided by the Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Trust is being discussed by Sheffield City Council’s health scrutiny sub-committee on June 6. The report says the top improvement priorities for the trust in 2024-2025 are to better develop awareness and recognition of sepsis.

They also say their priorities include improving bereavement services for families and continuing to work on the Waiting Well project to support patients waiting for treatment.

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According to the NHS, sepsis is a "life-threatening reaction to an infection. It happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s own tissues and organs".

In May 2022, one-year-old James Philliskirk died from sepsis after being taken to the children's hospital A&E department by his family. He was twice misdiagnosed with chickenpox. and an inquest in April 2023 ruled this was partly due to neglect by the hospital.

A prevention of future deaths report was issued to the Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust by coroner Abigail Combes. As a result, a specialist sepsis nurse was appointed by the hospital in January.

The report says: "Our reason for selecting this priority is because findings of our recent audits and investigations into our serious incidents have shown us that we have more to do as a Trust in terms of our awareness and recognition of sepsis.

"Nationally, reports from bodies such as the Parliamentary Health Services Ombudsman and the Health Service Journal show that recognition of sepsis has not improved as much as expected, and patients are not always being diagnosed or treated quickly enough."

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Part of this effort will include working with parents of children who have had sepsis to understand their experience and to ensure their voices are heard. A review of all significant cases will also identify themes or trends to help staff take earlier action.

The trust also plans to recruit an administrative coordinator and a support nurse as part of a bereavement support team which will be built into the trust structure. The bereavement support nurse will be responsible for delivering education and training to key members of staff and the bereavement administrative coordinator will be responsible for ensuring that family contact procedures have been completed and documented by staff.

The report says: "Our reason for selecting this priority is because recent bereavements, complex complaints and recommendations from inquests at the trust have demonstrated that our bereavement care is not always in line with our Quality Promise."

A process will be confirmed to ensure that key staff refer families for additional support to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, including bereavement counselling. The trust is also committed to “providing bereavement support that is culturally appropriate for each family and be guided by those with lived experience”.

The trust says that the Waiting Well project is a priority because of “increased waiting times/lists and the subsequent need to ensure patients and families feel supported and safe during this time.” It adds: "Waiting list recovery is also a key priority for the NHS in 2024/25."

The system, which has a specific focus on patients with a neurodisability, aims to "reduce the risk of young people and their families coming to harm and help them to feel fully informed while waiting".

Waiting Well support includes providing access to information and resources that will help to improve overall health – such as improving oral health and exercise – as well as providing tailored resources for specific health conditions. Waiting Well also checks in with patients to see if their appointment or procedure is still necessary and provides a contact route if a child’s condition has changed whilst waiting.

The trust says it will work closely with patients and families to better understand what support they would find useful while they are waiting to be seen. This includes additional support for neurodiverse patients and their families.