A Royal College of Physicians working party has created and piloted a National Early Warning Score to detect when the condition of very sick patients is deteriorating.

The score combines vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature to help nursing and medical teams decide if a patient needs more urgent care.

Chair of the working party, Professor Bryan Williams, estimated that the score could save 6,000 lives every year.

“Many changes in health care are incremental, but this new National Early Warning Score has the potential to transform patient safety in our hospitals and improve patient outcomes, it is hugely important,” he said.

The working party – made up of doctors, nurses and managers – says that NHS trusts use different early warning systems with different charts, resulting in a lack of consistency in detecting and responding to acutely ill patients.

Use of NEWS will mean the same score system is used in every hospital, providing a unified approach to the assessment and tracking of patients.

It will also standardise the training of all staff and provide standardised data on regional variations in illness severity and resource requirements, a report issued today says.

NEWS is based on a simple scoring system for respiratory rate, oxygen saturations, temperature, systolic blood pressure, pulse rate and level of consciousness.

A score is allocated to each measurement and the more the measurements vary from what would have been expected, the higher the score.

The six scores are then aggregated to produce an overall score which, if high, will alert the nursing or medical team of the need to escalate the care of the patient.

NEWS also gives detailed recommendations on the actions for each score.

The report says NEWS was evaluated against many existing systems and found to be “as good as the best of existing systems and better than others."