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Fighting child sepsis

Parents across South Devon and Torbay are being asked to assess the effectiveness of a symptom-checker that helps to safeguard children against sepsis.

Thousands of SAM (sepsis awareness and management) leaflets were distributed late last year across South Devon and Torbay as part of a pilot scheme, following the case of three-year-old Sam Morrish, from Newton Abbot, who died from sepsis in December 2010.

The sepsis awareness campaign involved South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group, Torbay Hospital, Public Health, GP practices, pharmacies and other local organisations. It will be rolled out across the region and then the country when it has been evaluated.

This comes as sepsis rises up the national agenda, especially in the light of Sam’s case and of a report by the NHS Ombudsman that called for action against a condition that claims 37,000 lives annually. Most deaths involve adults, but children die every year and more are left with disabilities.

Susan Bracefield, who has led work on the project for NHS England, said it is important that parents of children who have had sepsis share their views on the system-checker.

She added: “There was a lot of enthusiasm among parents when they came across the SAM leaflets, especially as sepsis was often completely new to them.

“But the acid test is whether they were useful when children did develop potential symptoms. Were they easy to understand and did they help parents take the right action? Are there things that we could improve or should change before making similar information available to parents elsewhere?

“Only parents really know, so their insights will be crucial in making sure we do the right thing in future. It’s their chance to make a real difference, based on their own experience.”

Part of the problem with sepsis in children is that the early, feverish symptoms can easily be mistaken for common and less-serious conditions. There is no single test as there is for meningitis, for example.

The SAM leaflet has been designed for parents to take away after seeing the doctor or getting other NHS advice, so they can look out for other potential signs of sepsis, such as drowsiness, vomiting or dehydration. Sepsis is still very unlikely, but parents need to be on the lookout and to act quickly if necessary.

The leaflet is a key element in a broader care ‘pathway’ across the entire healthcare system in south Devon and Torbay. Nothing like this exists in the NHS – or in the rest of the world.

The aim is to ensure that parents are always asked the right questions and that those children who do have severe sepsis always go on to get the right treatment, whatever their point of contact with the NHS: GP surgery, out-of-hours service, the NHS 111 phone line, minor injuries unit, pharmacy, ambulance service or A&E department.

But before being shared across the wider NHS, Plymouth University and NHS England are evaluating the different elements of the pilot scheme. That includes the SAM leaflet itself.

Any parent who has used the symptom-checker is therefore being asked to complete an online survey and/or to take part in a short interview – face to face or by phone – so their experience can help others in the future.

The survey is available at The symptom-checker itself is here.

Parents who want to take part in the interview process can call 0113 824 8778 or email