Lightening the Load

Richard Anderson of Crawford Healthcare argues how advanced woundcare products could help the NHS fight infection on the wards

Richard Anderson

With long-term hospitalisation continuing to prove a drain on NHS resources, Richard Anderson, chief executive of advanced woundcare business, Crawford Healthcare, discusses how new approaches to anti-microbial resistance could relieve the burden

NHS waiting times have come under intense scrutiny in the press over the last 12 months, and rightly so. While we may have seen an improvement in the situation since last Christmas – when the number of patients waiting 12 hours or more for a bed on a ward reached record levels – the NHS is sure to come under strain again in the near future.

NHS trusts must find more-efficient methods of treatment, and it is up to healthcare companies to innovate to help them in that task

Labour hung its hat on the NHS in the General Election for good reason – despite having failed to check the figures – and, while David Cameron is pushing a ‘seven-day’ service by 2020, continued austerity into 2016 suggests we won’t see an immediate upswing in resources.

December’s unprecedented bed shortage may have been attributed to a lack of social care provision for the elderly but, with that situation unlikely to have drastically improved within a 12-month window, the NHS could face similar bed shortages this winter. With that in mind, NHS trusts must find more-efficient methods of treatment, and it is up to healthcare companies to innovate to help them in that task.

While the number of people admitted to hospital is dependent on a number of external factors, clearing beds of long-term residents has to be a target for the NHS. One of the main drains on resources is undoubtedly the impact of secondary infections, encouraged by the ever-growing resistance to modern antibiotics.

Though the antibiotics market has been relatively stagnant for almost three decades, the advanced woundcare market is seeing rapid growth and innovation

The pharmaceuticals market is at somewhat of a tipping point in relation to antibiotics. Years of oversubscription, combined with a slowing pipeline of new products, means that the likelihood of contracting secondary infections during hospital treatment is perilously high. The recent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, headed by former Goldman Sachs chairman, Jim O’Neill, suggested that international governments would need to provide a fund to stimulate pharma businesses to re-enter the generally-unprofitable industry of antibiotics.

But, while we await any concrete action in this area, medical practitioners must look at other ways of preventing infection – most notably woundcare. Though the antibiotics market has been relatively stagnant for almost three decades, the advanced woundcare market is seeing rapid growth and innovation, particularly in the privatised American healthcare system.

A superfund that ploughs more money into pharmaceuticals is of course one approach, but to keep with the pace of innovation, our healthcare service might be better placed to embrace the many new technologies on the market

US hospitals have taken to the re-emergence of silver-based woundcare products in an effort to prevent infections topically. The slower delivery of antibiotics to a wound through the blood often means that secondary infections are already too well established to be treated effectively. Treating a wound directly with an appropriate antimicrobial wound dressing may be the most-appropriate treatment for dealing with that individual infection.

Fast-forming biofilms have often been considered a hindrance to this approach. However, the US market is responding well to the use of powerful, silver-based wound dressings. These dressings destroy biofilms on contact, where previously nurses would be required to physically remove the layer of membrane, which essentially serves to protect infection-causing bacteria.

The use of silver in woundcare has been declining in Europe since 2009, but with new technologies available in this area we could see an increase in the topical treatment of wounds. This could reduce the risks of secondary infection, from bacteria such as MRSA, and subsequently reduce the length of a patient’s hospital stay.

This, of course, is just one of the many areas of the healthcare industry that is making strides forward, but one which provides a viable route to a stronger NHS. The difficulties faced by the NHS are unlikely to go away easily, and it’s time the issue of antibiotic resistance was effectively dealt with. A superfund that ploughs more money into pharmaceuticals is of course one approach, but to keep with the pace of innovation, our healthcare service might be better placed to embrace the many new technologies on the market.

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