James Philliskirk: Sheffield hospital’s new sepsis nurse role aims to prevent deaths after tragedy

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One-year-old James tragically died at home after developing sepsis from a Strep A skin infection.

A specialist sepsis nurse has been appointed at Sheffield Children’s Hospital nearly two years after the tragic death of a one-year-old boy.

James Philliskirk died after being taken to the hospital by his parents several times in May 2022.

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The 16-month-old was misdiagnosed with chickenpox, and doctors dismissed the fears of his parents, Helen and Daniel, that it was something more serious.

Helen said: "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.”

James Philliskirk was just 16 months old when he died.James Philliskirk was just 16 months old when he died.
James Philliskirk was just 16 months old when he died. | Helen and Daniel Philliskirk

James tragically died at home after developing sepsis from a Strep A skin infection.

She added: "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."

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The need for a lead sepsis nurse was identified after an inquest in April found his death was contributed to by neglect from the hospital.

Emma Nicholson has taken on the role alongside her job as a nurse, to provide clinical leadership, education and training to ensure sepsis cases are caught and treated early.

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.

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"Helen and Daniel have been both courageous and generous with their time in helping us consider how we take forward learning. 

"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. 

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"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."

Helen and Daniel Philliskirk 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.

The parents of James Philliskirk say they were "dismissed and ignored" by doctors at Sheffield Children's Hospital who reportedly wrote the toddler's life-threatening infection off as chickenpox.The parents of James Philliskirk say they were "dismissed and ignored" by doctors at Sheffield Children's Hospital who reportedly wrote the toddler's life-threatening infection off as chickenpox.
The parents of James Philliskirk say they were "dismissed and ignored" by doctors at Sheffield Children's Hospital who reportedly wrote the toddler's life-threatening infection off as chickenpox.

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.

"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. 

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"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."

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."

Emma’s 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. 

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She said: "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.

"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."

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