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Case study: 'Just Ask'

Campaign aimed at getting HCPs and the general public to 'think sepsis'

Published: 13 Jan 2018

Sepsis poster

Client: UK Sepsis Trust (UKST)

Agency: 11 London

Campaign: 'Just Ask'

Timescale: N/A

A quick look

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection that kills 44,000 each year in the UK. If caught early, it can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. If misdiagnosed or missed, it can lead to multiple organ failure, limb loss and death. As the symptoms can be mistaken for illnesses like flu, basic awareness of the condition is fundamental to its successful treatment.

The UKST and 11 London developed the ‘Just ask’ campaign to get HCPs and the general public to ‘think sepsis’ at appropriate times. The creative was adopted and funded by PHE, following the engagement of key decision-makers Sir Bruce Keogh and Jeremy Hunt. Since the start of the campaign in 2015, awareness of sepsis as an emergency condition has risen by 15% and current official case recordings are four times greater.


Every year in the UK, sepsis kills more people than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined. However, as a condition it is chronically ‘under-diagnosed, under-recorded and under-reported’.

Our task was to alert governmental decision-makers, healthcare professionals and the general public to the reality of sepsis, without instilling panic. We aimed to prevent people dying of ignorance, without relying on fear.


In collaboration with UKST, we developed the public awareness campaign: ‘Just ask: could it be sepsis?’ Eye-catching, memorable and easily understandable, ‘Just ask’ worked for HCPs and the general public alike by raising a simple, life-saving question.

‘Just ask’ was adopted and funded by Public Health England (PHE), following the engagement of Sir Bruce Keogh and Jeremy Hunt. This was made possible by the tireless campaigning of Melissa Mead, who helped to engage the Daily Mail, and the paper committed to running a weekly story on sepsis.

‘Just Ask’ is now in A&E departments and GP surgeries across the UK, as well as on liveried ambulance fleets, and our child sepsis symptom checker is in the Personal Child Health Record ‘Red Book’ issued to all new UK parents.


Following the start of our campaign, awareness of sepsis among HCPs and the public has risen significantly. Accuracy of case recordings of sepsis increased dramatically, with figures announced in February 2017 indicating 218,255 coded episodes in the UK - four times greater than figures from 2015. Public awareness of sepsis increased, as shown by the positive responses to the following:

  • ‘Have you heard of sepsis?’ rose from 45% in 2015 to 66% in 2016
  • ‘Do you have an idea what sepsis is?’ rose from 38% to 55%
  • ‘Do you think sepsis is an emergency?’ rose from 60% to 75%.

Client verdict

“We’re encouraging healthcare professionals to think sepsis at every appropriate opportunity. We’re also empowering members of the public to ask, ‘Could it be sepsis?’ and thereby forming a partnership between the general public and healthcare professions.” Dr Ron Daniels, founder and CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust (client)

“The first thing in any diagnosis is - you have to think of it first - and that’s why engaging the public is so important and the work of UKST is so important.” Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director at NHS England

“The reminder to ‘Just Ask’ is spot on - I so wish this had been the practice when I was admitted to hospital. That one single catchphrase will save lives - I know it.” Tom Ray, sepsis survivor

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