Hospitals could face financial penalties if they fail to meet new guidelines for detecting and treating sepsis.
The guidance, mandated by NHS England, includes a requirement for staff to alert senior doctors if patients suspected of having the deadly condition do not respond to treatment within one hour.
All NHS trusts in England will be contractually obliged to fully comply with the advice from April, in a bid to improve accountability.
Sepsis, which is hard to spot, occurs when the body responds poorly to a bacterial infection and attacks its own tissue and organs.
It currently claims 52,000 lives a year in the UK and early treatment is vital to ensure a good outcome for the patient.
The new guidance, created by organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, the UK Sepsis Trust and NHS England, aims to cut the number of sepsis deaths.
It calls for staff to look for signs of sepsis in people coming into A&E at an early stage and to flag cases when patients suspected of having the condition are not responding to treatment.
Medics must also pay attention to family concerns, particularly regarding any significant change in behaviour.
Celia Ingham Clark, medical director for clinical effectiveness at NHS England, said: “We’ve come a long way in the NHS in improving how we identify and tackle sepsis, with more people having the problem spotted and treated than ever before.
“The NHS long term plan is a blueprint for transforming NHS care and after the success we’ve had ramping up earlier sepsis diagnosis in many parts of the country, all hospitals will now be required to deliver the best possible practices for identifying and treating sepsis.”
The guidance is being mandated in the NHS standard contract, which is enforced by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Financial consequences can be imposed for trusts failing to meet the terms of the contract.
The NHS is also rolling out the National Early Warning Scores (NEWS2) to more acute and ambulance trusts.
The tool can be used to identify severely-ill adult patients and notify senior staff if a review of their condition is needed to determine whether it is caused by sepsis.
Dr Tim Nutbeam, clinical adviser for the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST), said: “The UKST welcomes this initiative – if delivered correctly it will ensure rapid and effective treatment for the patients who need it most, whilst ensuring that senior clinical decision-makers are supported in making informed, balanced decisions in relation to the prescribing of antibiotics.”
A NHS review of hospital targets is expected to soon be published, with new clinical standards trialled over the next few months.
The move is part of a drive to provide quicker diagnosis and treatment of patients arriving at A&E with suspected sepsis and other killers such as heart attacks and strokes.