The role that popular TV soaps play in raising public awareness of important social, legal and medical issues should not be underestimated.
Sepsis has been used as a compelling and emotional storyline previously on BBC dramas such as ‘the Archers’ and ‘Call the Midwife’. The latest TV drama to highlight sepsis is the ever popular Coronation Street.
Mechanic Kevin Webster is left devastated as he finds that the life of his young son Jack hangs in the balance after being diagnosed with sepsis. Although Jack complained about feeling unwell, his sceptical sister Sophie insisted that he should go to school. Not long afterwards, Seb Franklin and Faye Windass find him slumped on the stairs.
Jack is rushed to the medical centre, where a doctor wrongly diagnoses a viral infection and sends him back home. However, when Ali Neeson later makes a house call to check on Jack, he notices discolouration on the boy’s fingers and toes, so calls an ambulance immediately.
At the hospital, Jack gets a diagnosis of sepsis and Kevin, Sally, Sophie and Tim are told that the next 24 hours will be crucial.
‘The character of sister Sophie blames herself for not taking her brother’s illness more seriously and doesn't really know what sepsis is or what it means, but she can see things are moving quickly and she's terrified. That fictional situation reflects reality very well in the cases we have handled.’
However, Sarah points out that ignorance of sepsis and its implications is not limited to members of the public, as shown in two cases she handled.
The case, a young mother of two who died after a misdiagnosis of sepsis, mirrors the initial misdiagnosis in the soap’s storyline and a similar failure to spot symptoms early enough and take the appropriate action resulted in the death of a 63-year-old lady from necrotising fasciitis.
Shoosmiths is a corporate supporter of The UK Sepsis Trust, which campaigns for better and far-reaching awareness of sepsis. Sarah says:
‘We see, all too often, the devastating effects that sepsis can have. These tragic cases show that better awareness of sepsis is required not just among members of the public, but also among medical professionals.’
‘If the Coronation Street storyline helps to improve wider awareness and knowledge of the condition, encouraging everyone to question if symptoms could be sepsis, then a TV entertainment show may have done a valuable service in helping to reduce the number of avoidable deaths and the suffering of those who have to live their lives in the shadow of this condition.’