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The cost of chronic wounds

There is little public awareness of chronic wounds and they receive little coverage in the media. Compared to the publicity that surrounds all forms of cancer, this is quite striking when you consider the scale of the problem and the suffering it can cause. Ulcers and similar wounds are not a pleasant topic for dinner-table conversations; but then surely tumours are equally unpleasant.

So just how big a problem are chronic wounds? A recent study [1] provides a comprehensive answer (for the UK’s NHS, at least).

Some of the key facts and figures (from 2012/13):

  • The NHS manages a total of 2.2 million wounds annually – acute and chronic
  • This includes 730,000 leg ulcers and 169,000 diabetic foot ulcers
  • Only 43% of the chronic wounds healed within the year
  • The annual cost to the National Health Service of treating chronic wounds (and associated conditions) is £5.3 billion

The numbers above are quite shocking; but what is the impact upon the quality of life for the patient? At HolistX we have been focussing on the diabetic foot ulcer. As well as being painful, by making it difficult for patients to get about, they can also lead to social isolation. While some of these ulcers heal successfully, those that do not are the most common cause of non-traumatic amputations. Studies have shown that the quality of life of patients can be very poor.

With an ageing population and an increasing occurrence of lifestyle-related disease such as Type 2 diabetes, it’s likely that the statistics quoted above will head in the wrong direction. So what can be done? It would obviously be beneficial to prevent the formation of ulcers. We have developed a genetic test which could predict which diabetic patients are most likely to have problems healing ulcers; this could be used to focus monitoring and preventive measures where they are most needed. Understanding better what happens in a wound is obviously the prelude to developing better treatments; and new tools for monitoring the status of wounds and spotting problems as early as possible would be beneficial. We are working on a variety of tests from measuring biomarkers to characterising the wound’s microbiome.
1.         Guest JF, Ayoub N, McIlwraith T, Uchegbu I, Gerrish A, Weidlich D, et al. Health economic burden that wounds impose on the National Health Service in the UK. BMJ Open 2015;5:e009283.