Every year the NHS spends around £5 billion caring for patients with wounds. In manpower terms - nurses, GPs and patients - this is the equivalent of almost 41 million visits. Yet, for the most part, all this time and money is wasted.

About the same amount of money is spent by the NHS on obesity each year, yet, that is where the comparisons end: dubbed the ‘Cinderella’ of health conditions, wounds and their care remain in the shadows - yet to enjoy the same limelight as the more media-savvy public health challenge.

Every year the NHS spends around £5 billion caring for patients with wounds

However, things are about to change. Awareness of the waste caused by preventable wounds now resonates at the highest NHS levels – encouraged by the Tissue Viability Society, which represents specialist nurses in this field. Faced with an ageing population, at increasing risk of wound precursor health problems such as diabetes, circulation problems, and of having a fall, the NHS has now realised that action on wound care is needed now.

Among the initiatives are the introduction of financial incentives for hospitals, and guidelines that improve the identification and care of wounds. Results are already evident, with the proportion of patients with pressure ulcers – skin damage caused by long periods of immobility and sustained pressure on the skin – standing at just 4.7 per cent in hospitals in 2014, down from 7.1 per cent in just two years. 

But, for Heidi Sandoz (née Guy), chair of the Tissue Viability Society, and an experienced tissue viability nurse, more still needs to be done. Reducing pressure ulcers acquired in hospitals is only one part of the story: there are many different types of wound – for example, leg ulcers are, by far, more common than pressure ulcers - and patients requiring wound care can be found in a variety of settings: in hospitals, in long-term care institutions and in private homes.

People need more education to prevent or identify a wound in its earliest stages

Patients with wounds are also managed by a wide range of people. This includes not just healthcare professionals - general practice, specialist physicians, surgeons, nurses and allied healthcare practitioners, such as podiatrists – but also informal carers in the home, who look after relatives. All these people need education to prevent or identify a wound in its earliest stages. Patients with, or who are at risk of developing a wound, also range in age, from infants to the elderly, and in their requirements for care.

In its lobby TVS calls for recognition that wound care is a specialised discipline that requires specialist training to diagnose and manage appropriately. It also wants more investment in community nursing resources and equipment to prevent and manage house-bound patients at risk of a wound as well as more standardised care across the country. Heidi says: “At the moment, there are huge variations across the country – there is a real ‘postcode lottery’ in the availability of tissue viability services - and that has to change.”