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The hidden epidemic of chronic wounds

By Fiona Wood and Hayley Ryan - posted Monday, 21 February 2022

There is an epidemic sweeping across Australia. Growing patient numbers indicate it won't end anytime soon. In 2021 over 420,000 people were affected, the vast majority aged over 65, although people of every age have fallen victim.

This epidemic cost Australian Governments more than $3 billion with individual patients, on-average, more than $4,000 out-of-pocket.

No, these shocking figures are not COVID-19 related. Rather, they are those of the hidden epidemic of chronic wounds.


Each of us remembers an elderly relative who had a bandage permanently adhered to an arm or leg. We may have even noticed its unsightly appearance, the unpleasant smell and the grimace of pain whenever it was bumped. Although we may not have realised it at the time, they were suffering from a chronic wound.

Chronic wounds erode people's quality of life. Most don't know how to get the wound to heal or where to seek treatment. Many are isolated and often feel the social stigma associated with the 'unpleasantness' of a chronic wound.

At best, chronic wounds are a costly nuisance. At worst they can be deadly. The negative implications this condition will have on someone's life extends beyond a person's health. The economic and social costs associated with chronic wounds can be significant. They can impact on people's work, study, and the activities many of us simply take for granted.

Despite this, chronic wounds have gone largely unrecognised by governments and viewed as a problem for the individual to manage. In fact, there has been almost nothing in the way of a national, coordinated approach to addressing this epidemic.

That's why Wounds Australia, the peak national body for wound prevention and management, working with its members and stakeholders, has developed a blueprint to seriously address the hidden epidemic of chronic wounds. Long overdue and desperately needed the blueprint focusses on delivering cost effective, patient focussed, long terms solutions.

Last week Wounds Australia released its 2022 federal pre-budget submission. Built on the foundation of its '11 Point Plan to fight Chronic Wounds', we are calling for bipartisan support and funding for:

  1.  a National Wound Services Scheme to subsidise wound products for people with venous leg ulcers or diabetic foot ulcers, over 65s, and concession card holders
  2. a national public health campaign
  3. wound care modules into medical, allied health and aged care degrees, courses and qualifications
  4. Medicare funding for the treatment of chronic wounds in primary health care.

These solutions are 'bleeding obvious' and will deliver long-term, positive health, economic and social benefits.

Millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands for individuals will be saved. There will be a reduction in the incidence chronic wounds, and the more severe negative health outcomes, such as amputations and even death.

As the federal election approaches it is essential every candidate is aware of the devasting impacts chronic wounds have on their constituents. There are approximately 2900 voters in each federal electorate suffering from a chronic wound right now plus their families and carers.

Real action, driven by evidence-based solutions is long overdue. Urgency, leadership and political will is needed now.

The health, quality of life and dignity for hundreds of thousands depends on it.

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About the Authors

Professor Fiona Wood is one of Australia’s most innovative and respected surgeons and researchers. A highly skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeon and world leading burns specialist, she has pioneered research and technology development in burns medicine.

Hayley is a leading educator in the Australian and New Zealand health and aged care sectors on the principles of wound management and infection control. Her specialities include chronic wound management, palliative wounds and pressure injury prevention. Hayley’s expertise was central to the development of Wounds Australia’s 11-Point Plan and response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality andSafety.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Fiona WoodFiona WoodPhoto of Hayley RyanHayley Ryan
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