New sepsis role created at Sheffield Children's Hospital after tragic death of toddler James

The tragic death of a 16-month-old boy in 2022 has led to Sheffield Children’s Hospital creating a new post to support patients, families and colleagues to detect and treat cases of sepsis as quickly and effectively as possible.

The need for a Lead Sepsis Nurse to be appointed at Sheffield Children’s was identified as one of a number of actions taken in learning lessons following the inquest last year into the sad death of James Philliskirk.

His parents, Helen and Daniel, took James to Sheffield Children’s on several occasions in May 2022. He was misdiagnosed with chicken pox and his parents’ fears that it was something more serious were dismissed by doctors.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

James sadly died at home after he developed sepsis following a Strep A skin infection. A jury inquest found his death was contributed to by neglect by the hospital.

Emma Nicholson – new Lead Sepsis Nurse at Sheffield Children’s HospitalEmma Nicholson – new Lead Sepsis Nurse at Sheffield Children’s Hospital
Emma Nicholson – new Lead Sepsis Nurse at Sheffield Children’s Hospital

In response the hospital has now appointed Emma Nicholson to the position of Lead Sepsis Nurse alongside her existing job as a nurse on one of the hospital wards. She will provide clinical leadership, education and training to ensure early recognition, assessment and intervention in sepsis cases.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that develops when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. It occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally helps to protect us and fight infection – goes into overdrive. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and sometimes death, especially if not recognised early and treated promptly.

While sepsis primarily affects very young children, older adults and people with underlying health conditions it can sometimes be triggered in those who are otherwise fit and healthy. Sepsis kills five people every hour in the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The new role will have a strong focus on educating colleagues across the Trust on the dangers of sepsis and the importance of early recognition and treatment, supporting our patients and families.

James PhilliskirkJames Philliskirk
James Philliskirk

The move has been welcomed by Helen and Daniel Philliskirk, who now work closely with UK Sepsis Trust to share their family’s tragic story to help make other parents aware of the signs of sepsis and to urge healthcare professionals to listen to patient and family voices.

Helen said: “James was a cheeky and self-directed little boy who had a wonderful smile. He had his whole life ahead of him, was an absolute joy to be around and was always full of mischief. He loved climbing, eating peas, Makaton signing ‘no’ and his favourite song was The Conga.

“We tried multiple times to get him the help that he needed but the misdiagnosis, our concerns being disregarded, failings and neglect of the hospital led to his death. It is the most unimaginable pain, but this pain drives us to share James’s story and to critically support Sheffield Children’s Hospital to do better, to ensure this is not the outcome for any other child and their family.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“James loved other babies and children; keeping everyone safe is what he would want which we will strive to do it to the best of our ability as part of his legacy. We hope that Emma’s role has the intended impact of raising awareness of sepsis and significantly reduces the likelihood of further preventable deaths. We will support in any way we can.”

It is hoped that the new role will provide information for hospital staff dealing with potential cases of sepsis.

Emma Nicholson said: “One of the most crucial elements of the new role is the education of clinical colleagues and getting champions within wards to help educate and disseminate information.

"We want to formulate a policy for escalation of deteriorating patients and linking with families to make sure that we are delivering excellent patient care.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s about giving colleagues the correct tools, the latest policies and up-to-date information. We have been developing new tools to detect patients with sepsis earlier and following a procedure to get them treated in a timely manner.”

Dr Ron Daniels BEM, founder and joint chief executive, UK Sepsis Trust, said: “We are delighted that Sheffield Children's has appointed Emma as Lead Sepsis Nurse, but of course deeply saddened that it took James' tragic death to bring this about.

"Whilst deaths from sepsis in children are thankfully rare, they are avoidable in many cases and for the Trust to prioritise sepsis in this way will ensure that more cases are recognised rapidly and patients given the best possible chance of survival."

Ruth Brown, Chief Executive of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are truly sorry that the care James received fell below the high standards we set ourselves and that James, his family and loved ones should have expected of us. Our internal investigation and the inquest showed that there were failings in James’s care.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Helen and Daniel have been both courageous and generous with their time in helping us consider how we take forward learning. One part of our plans to address these failings has been to undertake further work on sepsis, including the appointment to a new Lead Sepsis Nurse role. In creating the role, which Helen kindly took part in the interview process for, we looked at how we’ve managed sepsis in patients in the past and how we can continue to improve our practice in the treatment of sepsis at Sheffield Children’s in the future.

“Listening to the families of children and young people, as those who know them the best, is a critical part of our care.

"We know how important this is along with making sure that the early detection of sepsis is something that is at the forefront of our minds, and that we highlight the importance of timely treatment when treating sepsis.

"By taking that approach we can minimise the chances of other parents and loved ones having to suffer the loss that James’s parents have.”