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Lower Limb Wound Care

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jo Churchill.)

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not normally sit when I speak in this place, but half an hour ago I was in a hospital bed on the 12th floor of St Thomas’s when I heard that this debate was coming early, rather than later. There was a big rush to get me here, and there are very good doctors and nurses in the Gallery who helped me to get here, because I thought it was tremendously important to speak. I had secured this debate, for which I am very grateful, and I particularly wanted to talk on this subject. I was pleased to get it before the recess, and I was not going to miss it for anything. After we finish, I shall be returning, I hope, to the 12th floor of St Thomas’s and to very good care.

The subject of this debate was brought to my attention by Lord Hunt, our colleague in the House of Lords, where they had a debate not long ago about what plans the Government have to develop a strategy for improving the standards of wound care in the NHS. As somebody who needs wound care right at this moment, I know what a big subject it is. I did not know before—I was totally ignorant—but I have discovered what a challenging subject it is for so many people.

As a patient myself, I can talk about the subject with some feeling. I have to say that it is the most painful thing I have ever come across, and I had no idea that people suffered this kind of pain. A week ago, when I had to be taken to a local hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, I was asked by an ambulance driver what level of pain I was in, on a scale of one to 10, and I said, “Nine.” I do not usually exaggerate; it was that painful. I am grateful to everybody who has helped me, and I want to make sure that the service develops and people get all the help they need in such circumstances.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing the debate. She often features in Adjournment debates in this House. We are very pleased to see her in her place, and we thank her for all that she does. Does she agree that many people fear that the NHS neglects leg ulcers and the required treatment is not being given? The latest statistics, according to Dr Adderley’s speech at the Health Service Journal patient safety congress, show that leg ulcers account for 40% of chronic wounds but only 7% of the chronic wounds that are treated. There is quite clearly an anomaly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making my speech for me. I am sure we will be in total agreement as my speech develops.

Some interesting points were made during the debate in the other place, including the point that wound care is a massive challenge to the NHS, but it currently lacks priority, investment and direction. I want to push the Government, if they need pushing, on the need for urgent action and the development of a strategy across care providers to improve the standard of wound care.

A staggering 2 million patients are treated for wounds every year, at a cost of more than £5 billion and rising. While 60% of all wounds heal within a year, a huge resource has to be committed to managing untreated wounds. The NHS response is very variable. Healing takes far too long; diagnosis is not good enough; and inadequate commissioning of services by clinical commissioning groups compounds the problem, with under-trained staff and a lack of suitable dressings and bandages.

There has also been a very worrying drop in the number of district nurses, whose role in ensuring safe and effective wound care in the community is crucial. I was shocked when I talked to a friend in Cardiff about the problem of putting on surgical stockings, and her experience highlights the need for district nurses. My friend had had a serious operation, and she could not bend to pull on the stockings. I asked her what she did, because she is a widow who lives on her own. She said, “I go out in the street and ask somebody to help me.” I am sure that people are very ready to help, but no one should be in that situation. I think we would all agree that the drop in the number of district nurses is very worrying.

I am told that, ideally, 70% of venous leg ulcerations should heal within 12 to 16 weeks, and 98% in 24 weeks. In reality, however, research shows that healing rates at six months have been reported as low as 9%, with infection rates as high as 58%. Patients suffer, and the cost of not healing wounds swiftly and effectively can lead to more serious health problems, such as sepsis, which is often the result of an infected injury. We also know that foot ulcers on diabetics can unfortunately lead to amputations if they are not dealt with properly.

In the other place they talked about the Bradford study, and there is a very good summary of it in the House of Lords Library. It underlines the importance of evidence-based care, with nearly one third of patients interviewed in the study failing to receive an accurate diagnosis for their wound. As the study puts it:

“Wound care should be seen as a specialist segment of healthcare that requires clinicians with specialist training to diagnose and manage…There is no doubt that better diagnosis and treatment and effective prevention of wound complications would help minimise treatment costs”.

We learn most of all from our own experience. My experience is that when I first developed a farthing-sized spot on my leg, I did not know what it was. I asked my chiropodist, who looked at it a few times and said, “I think you had better go and see your GP.” I went to see my GP—a very good GP—who did not know what it was either. Eventually, I was referred to a skin specialist—this is some weeks ago, now—who looked at it and said, “I don’t know what it is, but why don’t you try putting Vaseline on it?” Now, I do not think the experts up there in the Gallery would think that that was a very good idea, but I did put Vaseline on it and I do not know whether that did me any harm or not. You do worry a lot when something like that happens, whether you have knocked your leg or injured yourself in some other way, and you wonder what on earth it could be.

I think that maybe diagnosis is difficult, but rapid diagnosis is absolutely essential. I am sure the Government would agree that we need to get to grips with a nationally driven strategy. Without it, patients will receive worse care for their injuries and the financial burden on other parts of the NHS will continue to increase, because patients develop chronic wounds or catch an infection that could lead to life-threatening illness.

During the course of my journey, I have met many interesting people. For instance, I did not know there was an all-party group on vascular and venous disease. I just happened to see it in the all-party notices the day after I had been in St Thomas’s. I rang up the chair, the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and asked him if I could come along to a meeting. He said that I was welcome to. I went along and, apart from the chair, I think I was the only MP there. There was a fascinating mixture of people, who were all involved in this problem in some way.

There was somebody who runs a leg clinic, who had a lot of stories to tell. In fact, she sent me a whole pile of patient stories—there is not time to read them out today, but they are very interesting. I realised how difficult it is for patients to get the right diagnosis and the right treatment. I took a list of all the people—they are mainly consultants—and I know that some people in St Thomas’s would have come along if they had known of the existence of such a group. It introduced me to the Lindsay Leg Club Foundation, which is run by Ellie Lindsay OBE, who is the president. There are leg clubs in many towns and cities around the country. She was very encouraging—I say that as somebody who was a bit afraid when they realised what they had. She rang me up several times, and her patient stories were fascinating.

I am listening with great interest to what the right hon. Lady is saying, not least because this is an important debate on something that we do not talk about as much as we should in this place. Am I picking up correctly what she is saying on patient experience? Is she saying that we should encourage patients who have been through this transition and experience to share that experience with others in order to make other potential patients more aware of what might be out there and what they could do?

Yes. That is a very positive idea. People need to talk to one another, particularly in this House because of the age differences. A lot of people talk about this in the other House, because on the whole they are much older than we are—except for me in this place; I am pretty old. I am just surprised that I had never heard of this before. Talking encourages people when they have discovered that they have this problem to seek the right advice.

Can I make absolutely sure that I understand this? By age difference, the right hon. Lady means people of my age—I am considerably older than some hon. Members—sharing experiences with people who are younger and might need to know these things. Is that correct?

Is this about the older generation, who might have had some experience in this regard, sharing experiences so that the younger generation—considerably younger than I am—might know the potential of what they will look at or deal with in future?

Yes. I am very glad that there is an all-party group, for example, because it is important that such groups exist. I have seen the work that has gone on there over several months. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are dozens and dozens of all-party groups in this place—I am sure that we do not know of the existence of most of them, but it is good to draw attention to this one.

Another person I met was Professor Julian Guest, who is a health economics consultant. People are very good at sending information. He sent me a list of things that, as a health economist, he has been working on. He says that wound care requires

“a change in its service delivery model that could include…Enhanced support for safe self-care (possibly by integration with local pharmacy support and supervision)…Improved diagnostic support underpinned by increased training and education of non-specialist nurses in the fundamentals of wound management…Consistent and integrated progressive care pathway with agreed defined trigger points for senior involvement and onward referral for investigation and differential diagnosis and a shared management plan to be implemented regardless of care setting…Establishment of dedicated wound care clinics in the community, possibly in general practices.”

So there are several papers by people working in this area who are thinking deeply about it.

I heard from consultants at St Thomas’s about an excellent development called the Camden Health Improvement Practice pilot wound clinic. Dr Geraghty, who runs it, is working on wound care for people who are sleeping rough—for the homeless. I think everybody would applaud that as a very necessary and useful thing to do, and we look forward to hearing more about it. I am looking at the clock, and there is not much time left, but I hope the Minister will respond on this issue, because when I think of the pain inflicted on people—luckily, my pain is managed, but the pain of the homeless, for example, who are sleeping rough on the streets, is not generally being managed—it is clear that this Camden project is a very welcome development.

I had a new knee about a year ago, which is not a pleasant thing to have done. However, I have known nothing as painful as this leg wound, and I am grateful that so many good people are working in this area and highlighting its importance. It is probably not as glamorous as others in the health service, but it is absolutely necessary for people’s wellbeing, comfort and health, and I hope we can do a lot more to support people in this area, to support new initiatives and to assist the doctors, nurses and other practitioners who do such an excellent job.

I am out on parole, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will, I hope, be returning to my bed in St Thomas’s before too long, and I hope to come back after the recess with very positive views and a continuing interest in the whole subject of wound care in the NHS.

It has sometimes been said that MPs in this House speak about things they do not know about, and sometimes MPs speak about things about which they have only a little experience, but I do not think I have ever had the honour of responding to a debate where a Member has spoken with so much current, relevant experience. I must congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)—

I do apologise—I went to university in Wales, so I should get that right.

I must congratulate the right hon. Lady, first, on securing the debate, and, secondly, on making such mammoth, gargantuan efforts to be here. She did that with some help from her friends on the 12th floor of St Thomas’s, the experts in the Gallery—I am going to have to be careful what I say. She is nothing short of an inspiration to all of us, both as a long-standing Member of Parliament who is greatly respected in this place and as a human being. We are so grateful for the fact that she has made it here today, and we wish her a very speedy recovery. We look forward to her being back here to monitor every development that the Department can bring about in the context of wound care and how we look after people in hospital more generally. She is a great inspiration to all of us, and I thank her so much for raising this issue in the House.

I think we all recognise the importance of ensuring that patients have access to high-quality lower limb wound care. As a Government, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that people receive the right care in the right place at the right time, whether through acute services, a local GP or services based in the local community. As the right hon. Lady knows, wound care treatment is a vital service which, during the initial period, is predominantly provided by a community nurse. That crucial provision offers relief to those with leg ulcerations or diabetic foot ulcerations and pressure ulcers.

As Members will know, venous disease is the most common type of leg ulceration, and can cause great distress and suffering to patients and their families. The right hon. Lady spoke powerfully of the pain that she has suffered, and that others suffer, as a result of the condition. I think it is important to keep that in mind because of the side effects that having to live with enduring pain for long periods can have on a person’s emotional and mental health and wellbeing.

Our priority is for leg ulcers of this type to be treated early and in the community when that is possible, without the need for further hospital admissions or GP appointments. I think that that preventative approach is right for patients and for the system. It is key for wound care to be delivered effectively and efficiently. Good wound care not only saves patients from distress and suffering, but gives nurses more time to deliver other important services, and alleviates pressure on acute services. That is why NHS England and NHS Improvement have commissioned the Academic Health Science Network to develop and deliver a national wound care strategy programme for England, which aims to improve the quality of wound care provision. It is a comprehensive programme, which covers improving prevention of pressure ulcers, wound care of the lower leg, and management of surgical wounds.

The programme’s work will be informed by the following priorities. First, it will improve patient experience and outcomes by developing national clinical standards of care and a more data-driven approach. I know that the right hon. Lady is very keen on that. Secondly, it will work with industry to ensure that the right wound care products are reaching patients at the right time through the development of a much more robust supply, delivery and distribution model. Thirdly, it will aim to improve the current patchy provision of wound care training—of which I know the right hon. Lady is well aware—and the inconsistencies in the availability and quality of educational resources. As well as improving the care provided by healthcare professionals, that will allow patients to become more capable in self-care.

The right hon. Lady raised several issues that I should like to follow up. Let me first pay tribute to the work done by the Lindsay Leg Club Foundation in relation to community-based leg ulcer care. I am pleased that the committee of the lower limb clinical workstream of the national wound care strategy programme includes members of the foundation. As the right hon. Lady said, leg clubs are organised by the local community rather than health providers, but leg club nursing teams are employed by NHS local provider services, clinical commissioning groups and GPs. That is why it is so important for everyone to work together to support people as much as they can in the community. I can imagine that when this condition starts it is so painful that people can feel extremely alone and isolated, and the provision of leg clubs and other support mechanisms in the community, to offer the information, advice and support that they need, can help them to stop feeling that isolation and fear.

I also join the right hon. Lady in welcoming the all-party parliamentary group on vascular and venous disease. It is important for us to have all-party parliamentary groups which really recognise conditions of this kind, and which are doing their best to push the Government, and us in the Department of Health and Social Care, to do everything we can to support people who suffer from them.

The programme that I was talking about started its work in late 2018, and since then has brought together a range of experts. It has recruited over 500 stakeholders from a very broad range of private and public sector organisations to its stakeholder forum, and it is important that we have people with real experience from across the country taking part in this and influencing the decisionmaking. They aim to deliver their recommendations by the end of the 2019-20 financial year. We look forward to receiving them and the positive impact that they will have on patients’ lives. This is just for England, but NHS England is in communication with wound care leads in the three other devolved nations to ensure that they are sharing this learning across the piece.

The research in this area is also very important. The Department funds research into all aspects of human health through the National Institute for Health Research at the level of about £1 billion a year, and the NIHR has funded a number of studies focusing on lower limb wound care, including venous leg ulcers and vascular problems. A five-year funded programme on complex wounds comprised 11 new and updated reviews of the existing literature, a survey and interviews with people with complex wounds, their carers and health care professionals. There has also been a series of venous leg ulcer studies using randomised control trials to investigate the clinical and cost effectiveness of new versus traditional venous leg ulcer treatments from types of compression bandage through to compression hosiery to larval therapy.

The right hon. Lady also spoke about the importance of having the right staff, expertise and medically trained people to be able to deliver the care, and it is no secret that community nurses are a fundamental part of our health system; they provide vital services that ensure patients are treated where they are most comfortable, which often is in their own home, and that they are supported to manage their conditions and to live independently. To help deliver our vision for community services, we are investing an extra £4.5 billion a year to spend on primary medical and community health services by 2023-24. The key to delivering the long-term plans and vision is ensuring that we have the right nursing numbers, particularly in the community, and that is why the interim NHS people plan is prioritising taking urgent accelerated action to tackle some of the community nursing vacancies. That will be done in a range of different ways, including increasing supply through under- graduate nursing degrees, clearer pathways into the profession through the nursing associate qualification and apprenticeships, and tackling some of the misconceptions about the role of community nurses, which sometimes deter people from entering the profession. In addition, in May 2018 we announced £10 million for incentives to postgraduate students to go on to work in some of the areas that we care very passionately about and where we want to recruit the best people, such as mental health, learning disability and district community nursing roles.

I am pleased to hear this very positive response from the Minister. In Northern Ireland we have a very good community nursing programme that is delivered through the social care services. It cares for those who need care and a change of dressing for their wounds every day. The Minister referred to contact with the regions and devolved Administrations; will she contact the Northern Ireland Assembly and the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, so they can give some idea of what we do there?

The hon. Gentleman is always full of brilliant ideas and we will only move forward as a nation if we share best practice and the expertise gained from different parts of our country. So I would be very keen to speak to his colleagues at the Northern Ireland Assembly and see if we can gain any learning from that.

I could not possibly let the occasion pass without commenting. Can I take it that that promise will be extended to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government? The issue we have heard about today is no less a problem in Scotland.

Yes. We do not discriminate. We are keen to talk to everyone to get the best possible learning so that patients up and down the country can benefit from all the expertise that is available.

In thanking the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley for making the supreme effort to be here today, I reassure her that both the Government and the NHS recognise the importance of ensuring that patients have access to high-quality lower limb wound care and will continue to support the work of the national wound care strategy programme for England on improving the quality of wound care, including lower limb wound care, in the country. I thank her once again for being here to make her case so incredibly powerfully. I wish her a speedy recovery and send her all our love from this House.

I echo the Minister’s warm comments about the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). We are all deeply impressed to see that she has come from her hospital bed on the 12th floor of St Thomas’s to raise this important issue in the House. I have known and been a friend of the right hon. Lady for more than 30 years and I know her courage and resilience so it is not a great surprise that she has done so, but nevertheless we are hugely impressed. Like the Minister, on behalf of the whole House, I wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to having her back full time in September.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.