young, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system, either hospital patients suffering from acute conditions or those who have recently undergone surgery.

Sepsis may follow a chest infection, a urine infection or even a seemingly minor skin cut or bite. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection in the body and attacks its own tissues and major organs. Unless treated promptly with fluids and antibiotics, it can lead to multiple organ failure.

“Hand hygiene alone is thought to be

able to reduce up to 40% of healthcare- related infections.”

An independent study commissioned by the UK Sepsis Trust revealed that the condition is responsible for 44,000 deaths every year – more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. And the cost to the UK economy is estimated as being £15.6bn annually. So what is being done to address this situation?


The World Health Organization (WHO) made sepsis the central theme of its SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign this year in a bid to raise awareness of the condition. Inaugurated in 2009, SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands is an annual event aimed at improving hand hygiene in healthcare.

During its campaign in May 2018, WHO called upon healthcare workers to adopt its ‘Five Moments of Hand Hygiene’ and asked facilities and health ministries to make hand hygiene a quality indicator in hospitals.

We at Essity backed the WHO campaign ourselves by launching our own three-step call to action. Together with our brands Tork and Leukoplast we introduced a ‘Think hygiene. Act to prevent. Care for patients’ campaign to support the SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands message.

Wound care also plays a decisive role in the prevention of sepsis since any break in the skin can allow bacteria to enter and cause an infection. This is particularly the case where a high-risk patient with a weakened immune system is suffering from a chronic wound. All sores should be monitored for signs of infection and cleansed thoroughly between dressing changes.

Appropriate wound care and high standards of hand hygiene are both pivotal in reducing the number of sepsis cases. But there are other, equally important steps that need to be taken.

The Intensive Care Society has launched a campaign to raise sepsis awareness and encourage a greater understanding of the condition in order to reduce the number of preventable deaths. Working with the UK Sepsis Trust, the society is calling for the better recording of sepsis cases in hospitals.

“Sepsis can affect any of us, but particularly vulnerable are the young,

the elderly and people with a weakened immune system: hospital patients with acute conditions or those who have recently undergone surgery.”

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“NHS watchdogs warned in April 2018 that patients were dying of sepsis

because ill-trained staff were unable to spot the signs.”

Carolyn Berland, Senior Scientist at Essity, said: “With up to two in every five cases of HAIs caused by cross-infection via the hands of healthcare workers, World Hand Hygiene Day is an opportunity to remind and inspire healthcare professionals about how critical hand hygiene is to help reduce healthcare-associated infections.”


Hand hygiene alone is thought to be able to reduce up to 40% of healthcare-related infections. However, research suggests that 61% of healthcare workers are still not adhering to best hand hygiene practices. By applying WHO’s ‘5 moments of hand hygiene’, healthcare professionals can make a difference and perform hygiene at appropriate times.

Meanwhile, NHS Improvement has urged all trusts to use a scoring system designed to ensure that acutely ill patients receive immediate help. Procedural changes mean that ambulance teams now alert hospital emergency services of incoming sepsis patients as they routinely do with heart attack or stroke patients. And extra commissioning incentives have been put in place in hospitals to reward good practice in sepsis care.

The results appear to be paying off. Three years ago the East Lancashire Hospitals Trust’s emergency department recorded some of the highest numbers of sepsis cases in the country. But following a staff education and training programme, timely treatment for sepsis at the trust rose from 49 to 76%.

At the same time, an awareness project encouraging staff to look for signs of the condition has dramatically increased survival rates for sepsis patients at the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust. The trust’s mortality rate due to sepsis was 49% higher than the national average in March 2017. But by December last year it had dropped to 17% below the national average.

Sepsis is a frightening prospect – particularly in healthcare where it is most virulent. But through a combination of improved awareness, better training, enhanced wound care and greater attention to hand hygiene we can together help to reduce the risk it poses to us all. HEALTHCARE HYGIENE | 41

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