Monitoring wound infections

Many hospitals monitor patients after surgery to find out how many go on to develop a wound infection. This monitoring is called surveillance and can be carried out in slightly different ways. 

How is wound information collected

Information about the wound can be collected in several ways, such as regularly visiting patients on the surgical wards (including patients who are readmitted to hospital), checking medical notes and routinely checking results of tests sent to the laboratory such as blood tests and wound swabs.  This information is collected for up to 30 days after surgery or up to one year if the operation includes an implant. An implant is a man-made object that is deliberately put inside a patient, such as a metal knee joint, a silicone breast implant or wires to support bone healing after heart surgery. Some hospitals contact patients who have left hospital either by sending them a questionnaire (paper, email or text) or by phoning them to ask about their wound around 30 days after their operation. All the collected information is assessed using an agreed definition to decide whether the patient has developed a wound infection.

The national wound monitoring programme

Hospitals can share surveillance information with Public Health England (PHE) as part of a national surveillance programme. PHE is an organisation sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care to protect and improve the nation’s health. Any information that a hospital gives to PHE is strictly confidential. PHE provides training for hospital staff to try and ensure that everyone follows the same methods.

What happens with wound infection monitoring data

Continually monitoring wound infections is essential to ensure hospitals provide the best possible care for all patients.  By taking part in the PHE programme, we can say what wound infection rates are nationally, and hospitals can compare their infection rates against the national rate.  Comparing wound infection rates between hospitals helps hospitals recognise when they are doing well in preventing and treating wound infection of where they need to improve to reduce infection levels.