With the average heal time of a chronic wound taking over five months med tech firm Smith + Nephew offers smart cost and time management solutions

Despite the huge burden that wound care places on the health service, in terms of both cost and resources, it gets very little mainstream media attention.

Left to right is Nigel Clancy and sales manager Barry Heaton of Dublin-based medical technology company Smith + Nephew

Medical technology company Smith + Nephew’s sales manager Barry Heaton and his colleague Nigel Clancy, its healthcare outcomes director, are working to challenge that perception. They say the burden of wound care could be attenuated if innovation in the area was embraced more readily with the ultimate impact of better outcomes for patients.

Wounds are always a consequence of another factor of health, Heaton says. “Whether it is someone suffering from diabetes, people recovering from operations, from cancer treatment – most of us are going to encounter a wound at some point or other in our lives,” he explains.

Heaton references one UK report that showed the annual cost to the NHS was €8.3 billion in 2018, suggesting that wound care runs up bills of at least hundreds of millions of euro annually in Ireland. “Wound care places a very significant burden on the health service,” he says.

And this is only set to get worse Heaton says. “We have an ageing population, an increase in people being diagnosed with diabetes and the highest rates in the OECD for obesity. Put it all together, we will have a massive wound care problem down the line.”

Right now, the burden of wound care is at its most evident in the community setting. Research shows that the average duration of chronic wounds before healing is 5.4 months. This includes leg ulcers and surgical wounds

“If you were to look at that in terms of cost, it’s not necessarily the price of the products used to help manage the wounds and help heal them but it’s the amount of time associated with that,” Heaton points out. “Some wounds have to be dressed on a daily basis and this takes a nurse a lot of time, driving to and from houses as many patients are unable to travel to a health centre. This requires so many resources and even in terms of sustainability, it is inefficient.”

Nigel Clancy and sales manager Barry Heaton of Dublin-based medical technology company Smith + Nephew at their City West offices

Clancy cites the negative impact that delayed healing of a chronic wound can have on a person’s quality of life. “It has been shown that chronic wounds can lead to loneliness, anxiety, depression, they have a huge impact on mental health. Wounds are also associated with pain so there is the pain management element there too,” he says. And while wounds are typically associated with older people, younger people who have wounds do exist, and they can suffer from the financial impact of not being able to work.

And while HSE published national wound management guidelines back in 2018, which were meant to set the standard for wound care across the country, Heaton says that implementation of these guidelines can vary. “In partnership with the wound care management experts, the clinicians, we can help support standardisation of treatments,” he explains.

The burden of wound care is at its biggest in the community setting. Research shows that the average duration of chronic wounds before healing is 5.4 months

One of Smith + Nephew’s innovations is a product called the PICO single use negative pressure wound therapy system, which reduces surgical site complications in high-risk patients. “Patient selection is crucial,” he says.

“The beauty of this product is that it has NICE guidance and while not necessary to be applied to every surgical incision, it is highly effective for high-risk cases. We can work with surgical departments to identify who their high-risk patients are, then we can measure their baseline, implement our product and then remeasure.”

This value-based healthcare approach to wound care will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. “Once we deploy our solution, we can help our customers, the clinicians, measure its impact so they know the outcomes and the hospital knows its outcomes.”

Ultimately, Heaton and Clancy want to use their appearance at the Future Health Summit to put wound care on the agenda. “It is under the radar, yet it will impact us all at some point in our lives,” Clancy says. “We help institutions, whether it’s a hospital or primary care centre, identify what’s going on with their wound care process at a point in time and that can help them to build education resources, standardise care and give patients the best opportunity to heal.”