Time to act on surgical site infections

Nick Rothwell warns that we do not yet have a true picture of SSI prevalence in the UK and, without this, we will never fully understand the scale of the problem with which we are dealing. He highlights a new report, Time to Act, which aims to raise awareness of the key issues.

COVID-19 continues to significantly impact every aspect of our lives. In particular, it has brought the importance of infection prevention to the forefront of public consciousness. We wear face coverings to buy groceries and when we use public transport, we are reminded to regularly wash our hands for two minutes, and we stay a safe distance away from our family and friends to prevent transmission. As the general public has become more aware of the importance of infection prevention measures in their day-to-day lives, we must also consider what more can be done to support the NHS to enhance the way in which it prevents infections – including in the operating theatre.

The NHS has been on the frontline in the battle against the virus, while also managing its unintended consequences. From later diagnoses of conditions such as

cancer, through to increased waiting times or cancellations of elective surgery, the pressure on the service has never been greater in its 72 years of existence. It is down to all of us to support the NHS and our brilliant healthcare professionals (HCPs) to help manage these pressures and overcome the challenges ahead, and that includes making surgeries as safe as possible for patients.

Time to act

Surgical site infections (SSIs) are a common type of healthcare-associated infection (HCAI) that can significantly impact both healthcare systems and patients.1

SSIs can

lead to extended hospital stays – resulting in additional cost burden for healthcare providers – and can contribute to antibiotic resistance. While there is no agreed figure for the total cost of SSIs to the NHS, each infection has been estimated to cost the NHS a staggering

£10,0002 to £100,000 per patient.3

The impact of these infections on patients can be devastating. One in twenty patients will contract an SSI,4

and these patients

As a result, in some instances, these infections can be life changing. Patients may go on to lose their jobs, their relationships, and sometimes, their homes. SSIs can be disfiguring and, in certain cases, the infection can never be cured, resulting in amputation or morbidity.6 However, the positive news is that up to 60% of SSIs are preventable.7

will experience pain and discomfort. It can result in delays in returning home from hospital, with an average hospital stay of 12 days.5

Steps can

be taken across a patients’ journey through surgery – before, during and after – to ensure their risk of infection is lowered. Despite clear evidence and guidelines, including from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), infection rates in the UK remain high. It is critical that we understand why this is the case, and what measures might support us to prevent more of these infections.

Understanding the full picture of SSIs in the UK

In order to do this, Mölnlycke has published a report – Time to Act: A State of the Nation report on Surgical Site Infections – which looks at the scale of the challenge of tackling SSIs in the UK, with the valuable support and insights of leading clinicians in the field. The first-of-its-kind report provides a detailed picture of SSI rates in the UK, and their impact on patients, clinicians and the NHS. In examining how to reduce the impact of SSIs, we reviewed some of the best practice taking place from both within the UK and around the world. We spoke to frontline clinicians, including Professor Mike Reed, a consultant trauma


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