Angela Burns September Western Mail Column

Earlier this month, I took part in World Sepsis Day. For years now, my Welsh Conservative colleagues and I have been fighting tirelessly to raise awareness of this terrible disease.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body's response to an infection such as a urinary infection, or pneumonia, or a cut on your body or an implant of some sort. The list is lengthy and, often, only the primary problem is perceived.

Despite the disease’s prevalence, many of us are unaware of the symptoms of Sepsis. At first, they can resemble those of flu – from slurred speech, extreme shivering or muscle pain. But if undetected, one experiences severe breathlessness, unable to pass urine and skin can become mottled or discoloured. For those who have survived Sepsis, many times I have heard the chilling phrase, “I felt like I was going to die”.

There were over 12,000 cases of Sepsis in Wales this year, an increase on the previous. Whether this increase is due to an improvement in diagnosing is hard to tell. Despite this, the number of deaths as a result have decreased. But a shocking 5,183 deaths have occurred due to Sepsis in the last three years alone.

I have had my own experience with Sepsis. It was caught very early on by the Nurse Manager at Withybush Hospital who refused to let the locum A&E consultant send me home. The consultant saw a woman with pneumonia, but the Nurse Manager saw a leg so inflamed, it couldn’t be put to the ground, the scars of the knee replacements, the rigors, the pain, and saved my life.

I went in for a routine operation, contracted the disease, and nearly died. This is not out of the ordinary.

Although I was one of the survivors of Sepsis, it isn’t the end of the battle: around half of us suffer from Post-Sepsis Syndrome. The result is long-term physical and/or psychological conditions ranging from disabling muscle and joint pains to decreased cognitive function.

It only goes to show how comprehensively devastating Sepsis can be.

This is why I founded and chair the Cross-Party Group on Sepsis in the National Assembly, which unites politicians, medical professionals, and stakeholders to limit the spread of Sepsis.

We work closely with THE Sepsis Trust, and have been consistent in our efforts to persuade the Welsh Government to launch a campaign to raise awareness of Sepsis: its symptoms, preventative measures, and the best ways in which to alert patients to spot it.

I have found it encouraging to see the life-changing consequences of Sepsis explored in Coronation Street which has a UK audience more than twice the size of the Welsh population. They didn’t pull their punches either – an eight year-old boy developed Sepsis through a simple cut while playing football. The result was having his leg amputated.

It would be fantastic to see such important issues raised through means which have great cut-through value to the public like this, but government can’t abdicate their responsibility for public health to entertainment and the arts. They have more of a part to play than everyone. So what is to be done?

A public awareness campaign and much more training of everyone from domiciliary care workers to consultants is vital. There needs to be mandatory training of staff. NHS England have already adopted an effective method of simply displaying the Sepsis Trust’s ‘Just ask, could it be Sepsis?” poster in ambulances. Why can’t we in Wales do the same, as my Cross-Party Group advocates?

One of the people running to replace Carwyn Jones as First Minister runs the NHS in Wales. Another was his predecessor. We hear so many poor excuses for the problems our health service faces from them – but improvements in tackling Sepsis are ready to go. The blueprints exists. So what’s holding them back?

If we stop Sepsis, we can save lives.