New Year Honours 2019: Sepsis campaigner appointed MBE

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Media caption,

This awareness raising video by Melissa Mead was seen 19 million times

A woman who led high-profile campaigns to raise awareness of sepsis after the death of her son in 2014 has been appointed an MBE.

William Mead died from treatable blood poisoning, known as septicaemia, just after his first birthday.

His mother Melissa had taken him to the GP several times and been told not to worry.

Melissa became an ambassador for the charity UK Sepsis Trust, and created a video, seen by 19 million people.

'Campaigning allowed me to put one foot in front of another'

Melissa, speaking to the BBC from her home in Cornwall, said: "I was shocked when the letter arrived, I certainly didn't expect it. This is not something I do for recognition, all I wanted to do was give my son a voice.

"Campaigning alongside the UK Sepsis Trust allowed me to channel my grief and put one foot in front of another.

"This year, I had a Christmas card from a lady with a photograph of her son who started school this year. She said he had been ill with sepsis, but was sent home by doctors who thought it was only a viral infection.

"Because of the video I had shared, she spotted some of the symptoms and took him to hospital. Perhaps if she had left it a day later it would have been too late.

"I can never bring William back, but he lives on in the hearts of the thousands of lives he has saved, and for me that is some comfort," she said.

"I am dedicating this award to him."

'Awareness can save lives'

A 2016 report into William's death called for better recognition by GPs of the signs and symptoms of septicaemia, and more training for NHS 111 advisers. The then health secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised for the failings.

Melissa went on to launch a campaign, with the UK Sepsis Trust, to help parents to spot signs of illness.

Millions of leaflets urging parents to take their child to A&E or call 999 if their child is displaying symptoms were delivered to GP surgeries and hospitals across the country.

The awareness video, in which Melissa held up cards detailing the symptoms of sepsis, was a key part of the campaign, and quickly went viral.

Since then the World Health Organization has adopted a resolution to improve sepsis care in all UN member states. A YouGov poll by the UK Sepsis Trust showed that awareness of the condition increased from 30% in 2014 to 70% in 2016.

Sepsis has also featured in storylines in Holby City, Call the Midwife, Coronation Street and The Archers.

Image source, Melissa Mead
Image caption,
Mellissa Mead and her son William in December 2014 just before he died

'An inspiration to us all'

Dr Ron Daniels, CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust, said: "It's fantastic that Melissa's services to raising awareness of sepsis are being recognised in this way. We're incredibly grateful to Melissa; her capacity to turn her grief into something positive is an inspiration to us all.

"We need loved ones to trust their instincts and we need health professionals to listen to them. Of the 250,000 people affected by sepsis every year in the UK, 25,000 are children but so many of these deaths are avoidable. Better awareness could save thousands of lives."

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is the immune system's over-reaction to an infection or injury. Around 44,000 people die annually because of sepsis and 60,000 suffer permanent after-effects. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. With early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.

How to spot sepsis in children

A child may have sepsis if he or she:

  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a fit or convulsion
  • Looks mottled, bluish, or pale
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Is not feeding
  • Is vomiting repeatedly
  • Has not passed urine for 12 hours

Many NHS staff have been recognised in the 2019 New Year Honours list.

The awards include OBEs for Dr Malik Ramadhan, who was in charge of A&E at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel on the night of the London Bridge terror attack; Paul Woodrow, who as director of operations for the London Ambulance Service also played a leading role in ensuring victims of the attacks in London and the Grenfell fire received swift care; and Colin Kelsey, who led the NHS response to the Manchester Arena bombing.