Approximately 1.5% of the population will have a wound of some type at any one point in time.
Fortunately, many of these are minor or acute and will heal without incident. The remaining wounds,
the majority of which are chronic ulcers are a significant source of patient morbidity and in some cases
mortality. Chronic wounds affect the individual’s quality of life and reduce their ability to optimise
their contribution to society. The management of wounds is also very costly to the health service with
the largest portion of that cost being nursing time. The protracted course of treatment, potential for
infection, together with the knowledge and skills required for optimal management supports the need
for national guidelines to promote evidence based practice.
The approach to optimal wound management centers on a comprehensive assessment of the patient
and the wound. This should be completed by a person trained in such assessment. The aetiology of the
wound should be determined with referral to appropriate members of the multi-disciplinary team when
further investigation or intervention is required. All aspects of care from initial presentation through to
treatment and evaluation should be documented. Following assessment, treatment goals should be
agreed with the patient and a time frame for their achievement set. Underlying factors which could
influence the potential for wound healing should be addressed. As wound healing is a complex multifactorial
process, the input of several members of the multi-disciplinary team may be required to achieve
the objectives. Evaluation is an on-going process. Each clinician involved in the provision of care must
work within their Scope of Practice and is accountable for their practice.
When cleansing the wound, potable tap water is suited for chronic wounds and in adults with lacerations.
An aseptic technique is required when the individual is immuno-compromised and/or the wound enters
a sterile body cavity. All dressings used in wound management should be used in accordance with
manufacturer’s instructions and the integrity of such products must be ensured through proper storage
and use. The choice of dressing is influenced by the type of wound, the amount of exudate, location of
wound, skin condition, presence or absence of infection, condition of the wound bed, the characteristics
of dressings available and treatment goals. Surgical wound dressings should be left dry and untouched
for a minimum of 48 hours post-operatively to allow for re-establishment of the natural bacteria-proof
barrier, unless otherwise clinically indicated.
Patients presenting with lower limb ulceration should have assessment and investigation undertaken
by health care professionals trained in leg ulcer management. All such patients should be screened for
evidence of arterial disease by measurement of ABPI by a person trained in such measurement. ABPI
should be conducted when: an ulcer is deteriorating, is not fully healed by 12 weeks, is recurrent, prior
to commencing compression therapy, when there is sudden increase in wound size, sudden increase
in wound pain, change in colour and/or temperature of the foot or as part of on-going assessment.
Graduated compression therapy with adequate padding, capable of sustaining compression for at least
one week should be the first line of treatment for uncomplicated venous leg ulcers. This should be
applied by a practitioner trained in its application.
Removal of devitalised tissue will promote wound healing. However, in arterial ulcers with dry gangrene
or eschar, debridement should not be performed until arterial flow has been established. Routine use of
antibiotics is unnecessary unless there are signs of infection.