Severe sepsis is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, claiming between 36 000 and 64 000 lives annually in the UK, with a mortality rate of 35%. International guidelines for the management of severe sepsis were published in 2004 by the Surviving Sepsis Campaign and condensed into two Care Bundles. In 2010, the Campaign published results from its improvement programme showing that, although an absolute mortality reduction of 5.4% was seen over a 2 year period in line with increasing compliance with the Bundles, reliability was not achieved and Bundle compliance reached only 31%. This article explores current challenges in sepsis care and opportunities for further improvements. Basic care tasks [microbiological sampling and antibiotic delivery within 1 h, fluid resuscitation, and risk stratification using serum lactate (or alternative)] are likely to benefit patients most, yet are unreliably performed. Barriers include lack of awareness and robust process, the lack of supporting controlled trials, and complex diagnostic criteria leading to recognition delays. Reliable, timely delivery of more complex life-saving tasks (such as early goal-directed therapy) demands greater awareness, faster recognition and initiation of basic care, and more effective collaboration between clinicians and nurses on the front line, in critical care and in specialist support services, such as microbiology and infectious diseases. Organizations such as Survive Sepsis, the Surviving Sepsis Campaign and the Global Sepsis Alliance are working to raise awareness and promote further improvement initiatives. Future developments will focus on sepsis biomarkers and microarray techniques to rapidly screen for pathogens, risk stratification using genetic profiling, and the development of novel therapeutic agents targeting immunomodulation.