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Sepsis cases in Highlands almost double in three years

By Gordon Calder

Labour MSP David Stewart described the figures as 'quite staggering'.
Labour MSP David Stewart described the figures as 'quite staggering'.

THE number of cases of sepsis – a potentially life-threatening blood infection – has almost doubled in the Highlands in the past three years.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by north Labour MSP David Stewart revealed that there were 464 cases in 2017, 596 the following year and 878 in 2019.

Mr Stewart, a Highlands and Islands list MSP and his party's spokesman on health, described the figures as "quite staggering", although he acknowledges the way in which sepsis is recorded was changed in 2017. He submitted the FoI to NHS Highland after being prompted by a constituent's case.

He pointed out that anyone can get sepsis but babies under one, people over 75, people with diabetes, those with a weakened immune system, patients who have recently undergone surgery and women who have just given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion are particularly susceptible.

"These figures are quite staggering for our region," Mr Stewart said. "I am aware that the way sepsis was recorded changed in late 2017 but it is still eye-opening for me to see this increase.

"The figures give a truer picture of the number of cases, which is very concerning. Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection and can very hard to spot.

"I realise there are extensive health staff education programmes on this, but I am keen to raise public awareness so that people can spot the symptoms and if they suspect anyone is affected they can seek medical help immediately."

The symptoms include blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue; a rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis; difficulty breathing; confusion or slurred speech; and, in children, a weak, abnormal, high-pitched cry, sleepiness or not showing interest.

NHS Highland explained that the new way of recording sepsis could have resulted in an increase in cases.

A spokesman said: "It is not thought this sudden increase represents a major shift in incidence of sepsis. There has also been a large effort across NHS Scotland to increase clinical recognition and recording of sepsis, and this heightened awareness may also have contributed to the increase recorded."

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