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New technology launches to speed up sepsis diagnosis for hospital patients

10 September 2021


The combined Microbiology departments at the Eastern Pathology Alliance have launched on-site blood culture machines across Norfolk’s three acute hospitals to diagnose sepsis more quickly.

Sepsis is a serious life-threatening condition that can occur in patients in the community or in hospital with vulnerable patients and patients with chronic health conditions most at risk.

The blood culture samples of hospital patients with suspected sepsis across Norfolk used to be sent to the Microbiology lab at Norwich Research Park.

However, new machines – the BioMerieux BACT/ Alert Virtuo – have been installed in the laboratories at the James Paget University Hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, to provide rapid onsite processing and significantly reducing the time it takes to provide information to help clinical staff treat patients.

If sepsis is suspected, a patient’s blood is collected and mixed with a sterile culture media to encourage the bug to grow so it can be identified by scientists Microbiology labs.

The new machines are part of EPA Microbiology network service at the three hospitals and will process hundreds of blood samples each week that will be reviewed more quickly and patients with positive samples can be treated with more focused antibiotics at an earlier stage.  Once a blood culture sample is collected it can be delivered to the onsite lab straight away and fed into the fully automated system immediately day or night.

Dr Reham Soliman, EPA Consultant Microbiologist and Service Director, said: “This improvement supports the government’s Sepsis 6 initiative which aims to improve diagnosis and survival from sepsis. I am delighted that Eastern Pathology Alliance Microbiology department is able to implement this quality improvement project for better outcome for our patients. I would like to thank everyone who has worked really hard to make it possible."

Stephanie Walker, Bacteriology Chief BMS, added: “This technology is a great addition to our lab and I am grateful to colleagues at Blood science labs at NNUH, QEH and JPUH who have worked collaboratively with us in Microbiology to implement this change.”

Dr Priyadarshan Ambadkar, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatal Lead at the James Paget University Hospital, said: “This is really good news for everyone. It should take away many of the delays in the system for processing samples and will mean we will be able to treat patients more accurately. It will change how we manage neonates and provide 24 hour support to our clinicians. It’s a huge improvement for patient safety and means doctors should be able to prescribe the right medication much earlier.”

Dr Ben Fox, Consultant Anaesthetist and QEH sepsis lead, added: “Sepsis remains a real killer. Anything we can do to speed up its diagnosis is wonderful news for our patients so this initiative is really brilliant.”

Our photographs show Dr Priyadarshan Ambadkar, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatal Lead, and Stephen Nicholls, Chief Biomedical Scientist and Lab Manager at the James Paget with the new machine, and staff using the machine at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital lab.

Dr Priyadarshan Ambadkar, wearing a short-sleeve blue scrub-type top and blue face mask, and Stephen Nicholls, wearing a white lab coat and blue face mask stand next to the new machine at the James Paget. The machine is white and bigger than both men and has a screen at the front to display the results and a small keyboard to input data. There are numbers visible on the screen, including 428 (the number of samples) and 37 (the temperature).

EPA Staff Using The New Blood Culture Machine - a woman in a white coat stands in front of the machine at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, to one side of the display screen. The screen reads 633 - the number of samples - and 37, the temperature.

EPA Staff Using The New Blood Culture Machine - two members of staff in white lab coats and blue face masks appear to be using the machine.