Sepsis plan needs action

5 August 2019

Doctors from leading Australian institutions including The University of Queensland have called on the government to implement a national action plan to fight one of Australia’s biggest killer diseases, sepsis.

Paediatric intensive care specialist Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach said a coordinated approach was the best way to effectively manage the deadly condition across all states and territories.

“Currently in Australia, the standard of care to recognise or to manage sepsis is very dependent on what state you’re in or which hospital you’re in,” Dr Schlapbach said.

“Implementing a standard for sepsis recognition and treatment would ensure that every patient in Australia could receive the best possible care for this disease.

“By making this part of a hospital’s accreditation process such as national hospital standards, it would greatly reduce variability in treatment and ultimately lead to better outcomes.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication caused by an infection which leads to organ failure and can result in death or permanent harm if not treated quickly.

A recent survey by the Australian Sepsis Network and The George Institute for Global Health found only 40 per cent of Australians had heard of sepsis, and only 14 per cent knew any of its signs.

“Lack of public awareness remains one of the biggest challenges as symptoms appear like the common cold or flu before they drastically worsen as the infection spreads,” Dr Schlapbach said.

“If Australia had a joint approach to sepsis, it would also support a public awareness and education campaign.

“Queensland is the second state to run a hospital campaign on sepsis treatment, following the success of New South Wales’ Sepsis Kills program.

“It takes a lot to pull these campaigns together, so we could save considerable resources by working collaboratively with each state and territory to pool resources.”

Children’s Health Queensland (CHQ), who Dr Schlapbach also works for, has been leading the state-wide response to paediatric sepsis, including the launch of a paediatric sepsis clinical pathway to help doctors at the time of diagnosis.

Dr Schlapbach said the real burden of sepsis was often under-represented due to the way hospital statistics are gathered.

“Let’s say a child or adult patient comes into hospital with pneumonia and develops sepsis after their admission; they will often be listed as pneumonia and not necessarily as sepsis.

“This means official statistics leave out a huge number of patients who develop the condition.

“We need to know how many patients have the disease to monitor the effectiveness of any intervention and to show the true burden and cost of this disease on Australians which leaves one-third of survivors with long-term health problems.

 “Efforts for rehabilitation that have been highly effective in other diseases such as stroke or myocardial infarction could be adapted for sepsis.”

Dr Schlapbach contributed to a perspective article published in the Medical Journal of Australia (DOI: 10.5694/mja2.50279), which was led by Professor Simon Finfer from the George Institute for Global Health.

Media: Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach,; Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118, +61 436 368 746.