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Baroness Greengross (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to support the goals of the World Sepsis Declaration; and what action they are taking to improve knowledge and skills regarding sepsis.

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the importance of addressing sepsis-a potentially life-threatening condition. We support the overall thrust of the World Sepsis Declaration. We have taken a range of actions to address sepsis, focusing on those interventions directly relevant to England-for example, the training of healthcare professionals in the awareness of sepsis. I commend the Global Sepsis Alliance for its initiative in raising the profile of this serious condition.

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Baroness Greengross (Crossbench)

I thank the noble Earl for that reply. However, given the problem of even adequate recognition of the problem of sepsis, and to ensure that the desired treatment improvements are fully underpinned by quality standards, can he assure the House that the Government are able to identify where sepsis sits within the NHS Outcomes Framework and the QIPP workstreams?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

Yes, my Lords. The NHS Outcomes Framework is, as the noble Baroness will know, a high-level document intended to drive improvements in the service generally. A condition such as sepsis would be covered in three separate domains of the framework, depending on which aspect of the condition was being considered-for example, safety, most obviously, or quality, or indeed the patient experience. The patient safety aspects are reiterated under Section 5 of the mandate as well, and under this general direction it will be for clinicians to take responsibility for delivering the clinical outcomes.

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Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what research the Government are supporting for the development of new and effective antibiotics for the treatment of sepsis? Can he also comment on a recent report from Southampton, which is based on a huge controlled trial of treatment where antibiotics were prescribed for patients with minor respiratory tract infections, and showed that such treatment was of no particular value but inevitably leads to increased bacterial resistance to current antibiotics? What is the Government reaction to that report?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, on the research on antibiotics, the noble Lord alights on a real problem. There is a dearth of such research; I am aware of at least one company engaging in it but in view of the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance it is a real issue. As the noble Lord will know, there are extensive guidelines to ensure that there is responsible prescribing of antibiotics. I am not aware of the Southampton example which he quotes, although I shall look into it and write to him as appropriate. He may like to know that the department has been developing a five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy-an action plan. It has an integrated approach and builds on a range of initiatives, such as the 2000 UK strategy and the 2011 EU strategic action plan.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Conservative)

My Lords, I believe it was the same report from Southampton that said the public have no idea of the difference between sepsis and septicaemia, which of course is a fatal condition if not treated. In view of the success of educating the public on strokes and how effective that has been, does the Minister think that as well as educating professionals there should also be a wider publicity campaign given to the general public to make people aware of the very important differences between these conditions?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My noble friend makes an important point. Public awareness is a key focus of the Global Sepsis Alliance's declaration. On raising awareness, the NHS Choices website has extensive information about sepsis, its causes, symptoms and treatment. I do agree, however, that it is important to empower both patients and the public to ensure that everybody is on their guard against this very serious illness.

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Baroness Pitkeathley (Labour)

My Lords, since sepsis accounts for more deaths than bowel, bladder and breast cancer put together and for one-third of all the expenditure on critical care in the NHS, would the Minister agree that early diagnosis is the key here? I declare an interest as someone who recovered from full-body sepsis, thanks to early diagnosis.

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. The need to rapidly identify sepsis when it occurs is vital to ensure that unnecessary death is prevented. A crucial measure to tackle sepsis when it appears is early treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics. My understanding is that once the bacterium has been identified, the treatment of choice is to have a more focused antibiotic, but rapid reaction is of the essence.

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Baroness Jolly (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, every year sepsis kills 37,000 people and costs the NHS 2.5 billion. Can my noble friend please tell the House what research programmes are in place across the NHS into care pathways and diagnosis?

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Earl Howe (Conservative)

My Lords, the department's National Institute for Health Research is funding a range of research on sepsis, which includes a study into the clinical and cost-effectiveness of early resuscitation protocols for emerging septic shock. Other examples include a trial of vasopressin versus noradrenaline as initial therapy; a study on how risks associated with nutropenic sepsis are conveyed to and interpreted by patients undergoing chemotherapy; and there is also a very interesting project on a point-of-care test for sepsis.