More than 170 healthcare professionals from across Victoria attended Wimmera Health Care Group’s Skin Integrity Symposium on 28 April, 2014.

Skin is the body’s largest organ, and maintaining its integrity by avoiding damage is a major challenge in health care. Skin becomes thinner and more fragile in older people, and is more likely to be damaged by pressure if appropriate preventative measures are not in place. Pressure injuries, often referred to as bedsores, are a common risk to people who are in care, particularly when bed-bound.

Wimmera Health Care Group’s Director of Clinical Services, Don McRae, said the organisation has made significant advances in care levels over the past 12 months, in response to new guidelines on the prevention and management of pressure injuries.

“At Wimmera Health Care Group we have put in place measures to reduce the prevalence of pressure injury from 25% in March 2013 to 5% in April 2014.

“As the largest provider of health services in the region, it is important that we share the tools and resources we have, to ensure the best level of care is given to all patients,” he said.

Keynote speaker, Clinical Nurse Consultant Tracy Nowicki said that wounds caused by pressure on fragile skin can cause discomfort and pain, decrease quality of life and increase patient length of stay and health care costs.

“The key message for health care practitioners in the Wimmera is that comprehensive skin inspection and pressure injury prevention is everyone’s business. From outpatients, theatre, maternity, geriatrics, aged care, home care - everybody is at risk. Every patient is different and their care must be suitable to their individual circumstances.

“It takes strong leadership to make sure that all staff are trained and equipped with the skills and tools they need to deliver best practice care. I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment I have seen here in Horsham – from senior management right through to frontline staff,” she said.

Ms Nowicki, who is based in Queensland, is considered one of Australia’s leading authorities on pressure injury prevention. She has presented papers on skin integrity management at conferences in New Zealand and Portugal, and notes that Australian standards are very high.

“Australia is really leading the way. The interest and information shared at this symposium would be better than I would see in Europe. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side – we do things well here and Australian education and best practice is leading the way,” she said.

Céline Melican, Clinical Educator at Wimmera Health Care Group, outlined steps that have been implemented to reduce the risk of injury.

“We’ve made some real improvements to our processes at Wimmera Health Care Group and want to share those throughout the region and beyond. We’ve undertaken audits of mattresses, skin care products and documentation, and so have been able to see what works, what doesn’t work and how we can do things better.

“There are over 95,000 cases of pressure injuries in Australian health care each year and 95% are considered to be avoidable. In Queensland, hospitals are now fined for each reported case and litigation is increasing across the country, adding to hospital costs. 

“Pressure injuries can have a detrimental effect on people’s health, increasing pain and suffering and of course put them at greater risk of infection, complications and even death. They stay in hospital longer, further impacting on their quality of life,” Ms Melican said.

Other presentations at the symposium focussed on sharing examples and experiences of best practice, including the impact of heel pressure on lower limb ulcers, offloading pressure on bony prominences when seating a patient, standardising skin care across an organisation and managing dermatitis caused by incontinence.

“The overarching theme of the symposium is that every patient is different and their care must be tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. This is the model we are striving towards at Wimmera Health Care Group, with great results,” Ms Melican said.

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