For years, sepsis was perceived as a rare condition by the public, something out of the ordinary which you'd never be expected to catch. In reality, however, a quarter of a million people a year suffer from this condition in the UK alone. That's one in every two hundred and forty people every year. Think of the number of people you pass on the high street when you're out shopping on a busy Saturday – chances are that one of those people will suffer this serious illness in the next 12 months. So it's pretty certain, Sepsis is not rare.
In fact, the battle to increase recognition of sepsis – often referred to in the past as 'blood poisoning' or septicaemia - has been going on since the Second World War. The British Wartime Government produced a run of posters calling septicaemia "Hitler's Greatest Ally," aiming to boost awareness among the British public of the dangers of this illness. At a time of rationing and declining public health, and in an era before the NHS, sepsis was a real problem in everyday life.
In 2016, the critically acclaimed Starfish was released in UK cinemas, bringing sepsis to the forefront of British culture. Telling the true story of Nic and Tom Ray, it explores how their lives change after Tom develops sepsis, and loses his arms, legs and parts of his face. Showing how love can survive even after this terrible illness, Starfish was an official selection at both the Busan and Edinburgh International Film Festivals. Slowly, sepsis was coming back into the forefront of the public's mind.
Sepsis was truly brought in the spotlight in August 2018, with a storyline surrounding it on one of Britain's biggest soaps, Coronation Street. Jack Webster contracted sepsis following an injury at football practice, and subsequently had his foot amputated, catapulting the condition into the public mind set once again. The storyline has had a huge effect on public recognition of the illness, with The Sepsis Trust saying they have seen a large increase in awareness.
Anna Durber, Sepsis Specialist Nurse, says "Public awareness of sepsis has increased dramatically over the last couple of years and this has been helped by awareness campaigns including the storylines on popular television programs, patient stories and expert speakers on talk shows.
"Stories such as those in Coronation Street and Starfish are incredibly important, as they not only focus on the seriousness of Sepsis, but also the aftermath of the condition. They demonstrate just how life changing the condition can be, and keep it in the forefront of the public's mind. The best thing we can do is show just how important it is that nobody perceives this illness as "rare," but instead always keeps it in their thoughts.
"One of the biggest problems in the hospitals is the late presentation in A&E of patients with sepsis. Prompt treatment is needed for the best outcome and delays in this treatment can cause life changing effects and even death. The public need to be very aware of sepsis as it can affect any person of any age or health status.
"Sepsis kills more people that lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined and is a very real concern for the public. We need our public to be in the same mind set as our hospital staff and always ask - 'could it be sepsis?' – and the greater role of sepsis on our TV screens will help this."
All this week at UHNM we are running Sepsis Week, aiming to promote awareness of this condition on the run up to World Sepsis Day on the 13th September. For more information, please keep following our social media channels, and feel free to come and visit us at one of our public pit stops on the sepsis trolley tour.