HSE wins global award for tackling sepsis amid Savita reforms

Changes sparked by Savita Halappanavar’s death contribute to fall in mortality rate

New guidelines were recommended in official reports into the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in 2012.

New guidelines were recommended in official reports into the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in 2012.


The Health Service Executive has won an international award for its efforts to tackle sepsis after showing it had cut the death rate from the condition by five percentage points.

The jury awarding a Global Sepsis Award to the Health Service Executive said it was particularly impressed with the achievements of the organisation “in only a few years”, especially the improved recognition of sepsis in the emergency and inpatient departments.

In reforms prompted by the death of Savita Halappanavar from sepsis, all treating health professionals are expected to recognise patients at risk of sepsis, whose condition is deteriorating due to infection, and to start the “sepsis six” resuscitation bundle of interventions within the first hour.

New guidelines were recommended in official reports into the death of Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in 2012.

The jury also said it was impressed by tests of maternity and paediatric sepsis programmes being rolled out across Ireland. And it suggested these could serve as a blueprint for other healthcare systems and countries in the future.

The number of patients diagnosed with sepsis fell last year by 10 per cent, the first fall since 2011, according to HSE figures. The number of sepsis diagnoses rose from 6,495 in 2011 to 17,106 in 2017, before tailing off to 15,379 last year.

Annual outcome reports show an absolute mortality reduction of 5 per cent over the period, and a 20 per cent relative reduction.

The award will be presented by the Global Sepsis Alliance charity to the HSE in Berlin on September 30th.

According to Mike Flynn, a healthcare reform consultant, there is tremendous potential and appetite within the HSE to achieve better outcomes for sepsis. “By bringing Irish sepsis outcomes to US levels we could free up almost 500 beds that would very quickly solve the trolley crisis. Many hundreds of lives would be saved too.”

The key was finding and treating sepsis faster by installing the latest technology, buying the fastest blood tests and hiring the best people to operate systems, he said.

Abnormal response

Marking World Sepsis Day on Friday, the HSE has urged people to familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of sepsis, which can be difficult to diagnose.

Sepsis is the body’s abnormal response to infection that results in the body’s own immune system attacking its own tissues and organs and can be life threatening.

It can develop from any infection and can affect anyone, but it is more common in the very young, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions or those with a weakened immune system. One-in-five people who develop sepsis will die but with early recognition and treatment the risk can be reduced.

“The most effective way to reduce death from sepsis is by prevention; good sanitation, personal hygiene, eating healthily, exercising moderately, breastfeeding, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and vaccination for preventable infections such as the flu vaccine,” explained Dr Martina Healy, HSE sepsis programme clinical lead.

“The next most effective way is early recognition and treatment. This is not simple.”

Symptoms can include slurred speech, excessive drowsiness, muscle or joint pain, severe breathlessness and pale or discoloured skin.