Although there is strong evidence that multidisciplinary foot care services can reduce the number of amputations associated with diabetic foot, access to such services remains patchy. Cliff Shearman (Southampton, UK) believes that healthcare providers are not doing enough to improve access. He says that it may take litigation from patients, who have lost a foot through poor care, to persuade healthcare providers to increase access, which he says would be “a great pity” because it should be “evidence and enthusiasm” that drives change.

Speaking at the CX ilegx Collaboration Day yesterday, Shearman explained that early diagnosis and prompt treatment can help to reduce the risk of amputation in patients with diabetic foot. He added that there is “strong evidence” to show that well-organised diabetic foot teams, working across primary and secondary care, can ensure that patients receive the care they need. Shearman noted that research indicates that such teams can the reduce rate of amputation by up to 80%. Furthermore, he reported that having a foot care team at his hospital (Southampton) has resulted in costs savings of £1,695,600 and a reduction in total beds of 5,662.

However, in the UK, only around 50% of people with diabetes receive the recommended nine health checks, including foot examination, and up to one in five hospitals do not have a diabetic foot protection team. Shearman commented: “I think healthcare professionals are now much more interested in the need to provide good care to reduce the amputation rates, but there is a lack of drive from government and healthcare providers to push this forward. At the moment, in the UK, we do not have core criteria for commissioning diabetic foot care services—all we can really do is to try to emulate those who have created good services,” he said.

According to Shearman, there are three steps to encouraging healthcare providers to take steps to increase access to foot care services: enthusiasm and evidence, naming and shaming, and litigation. He claimed that we are now the stage of “naming and shaming”—ie, showing how amputations rates can be “staggeringly reduced” with timely access and multidisciplinary team working. “If that does not work, it will be litigation that drives change. The number of ligation cases is rising enormously because people are recognising that they have not received good care and therefore, are taking action against their healthcare provider. It will be a great pity if litigation is what prompts change as it should be enthusiasm and evidence.” 

Michael Edmonds (London, UK), who (like Shearman) is a course director of the CX ilegx Collaboration Day, agrees that poorly organised services—rather than a lack of effective treatment—are a cause of patients with diabetic foot having to undergo amputation. He said one of the key goals of ilegx, which was started in 2008, was to “encourage interdisciplinary collaboration that spans the primary and secondary services, and develop and implement best practice approach to save legs.”

Shearman told CX Daily News: “I hope delegates who attend the course will go away fired up with the knowledge that they can make a difference [by being enthusiastic about improving care and encouraging multidisciplinary working] and that they can help their centres save money as well as improve outcomes. Improving the care of patients with diabetic foot is not about hiring lots of new people or lots of new technology. It is about working as a team.”

Treatment options for diabetic foot

During the CX ilegx Collaboration Day, there were several talks about treatment options for patients with diabetic foot. Toby Richards (London, UK) spoke about a novel wound therapy called CelluTome (KCI). He said that this involved taking an epidermal graft off a patient’s leg, without any form of anaesthetic, by applying local heat to create microblisters that were then transferred onto a wound.

To assess the system, Richards and colleagues evaluated its use in a case series of 30 patients who were candidates for split skin grafts—most of whom had chronic wounds, with Richards noting: “so, we are not picking winners” (ie. patients with wounds that had a better chance of complete healing).

He stated that the “most important thing” was that the average time for donor site healing was 5.43±1.54 days, the mean pain score was 1.33±0.95, and the Vancouver Scar Scale was 0 for all cases at six weeks after therapy.

Richards reported that 17 patients had complete healing (12 in under six week and four in under eight weeks) and that seven grafts failed due to infection, adding “one of the problems we had is that the graft looks like a biofilm at two weeks and a nurse who was not familiar would come along and think it needed cleaning, so there goes your graft. While you get used to this look, you need to leave the dressing on as long as possible, and then you will start to get good results.” He concluded that it was a novel technology that was “feasible” and it that “certainly does work”, saying: “as with all new technologies, it should be tested in a proper trial before we introduce it into normal practice. Therefore, we will be evaluating it in a randomised controlled trial.”

Jennifer Tremlett (London, UK) also spoke about wound care techniques, including platelet rich plasma, larvae therapy, and negative wound pressure. Like Shearman and Edmonds, Tremlett advocated “multidisciplinary working” because it “provides better outcomes”. Furthermore, Dean Huang (London, UK), who spoke about advances in distal endovascular surgery, said that the need for collaborative working and rapid access to diagnosis and intervention were “probably two of the most important points” in his talk.