Information for patients
This leaflet can be made available in other formats including large print, CD and Braille and in languages other than English, upon request.
The leaflet tells you about surgical site (operation wound) infections, how we reduce the risk of you developing such an infection and how you can help.
What is a surgical site infection?
There are lots of germs on our skin and around us. Most of them are harmless, but a few can cause infections. Our skin protects us from these harmful germs.
A surgical site infection develops when germs from your skin or around you enter the incision (cut) made through your skin to carry out your operation. They are very rare and usually only affect the skin but can sometimes spread to deeper tissue.
Infections are more likely to develop after surgery on parts of the body that have lots of germs, such as the bowel.
When do surgical site infections develop?
A surgical site infection can develop anytime from 2 to 3 days after operation, up to when the wound has healed (usually 2 to 3 weeks after the operation).
Sometimes an infection can happen quite a few months after an operation, mostly when an artificial implant has been used, for example, a hip replacement. Infections elsewhere can also increase the likelihood of a surgical site infection, as blood flow is increased following the surgery.
What increases the risk of a surgical site infection?
You are more likely to develop a wound infection if you:
- are a diabetic
- are a smoker
- take steroids
- are poorly nourished (have a poor diet)
- have been in hospital for a long time before your operation
- have had a blood transfusion before your operation.
What can be done to reduce the risk of a surgical site infection?
To help reduce this risk:
- if your skin needs to be shaved before an operation, staff should use electric clippers with a disposable head. Do not try to shave the area yourself as this causes micro-cuts in the skin, which can increase the likelihood of infection entering the body
- you may be prescribed antibiotics before the operation to further reduce the risk of developing an infection
- your skin will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution in the operating theatre before the incision is made
- we use sterile instruments and staff wear sterile gowns and gloves during your operation
- your wound will be covered with a dressing which should be left in place for at least 48 hours
- staff will clean their hands before touching your wound, either by using hand rub or by washing with soap and water.
What can I do to help?
- have a bath or shower on the day of your operation, if possible, to make sure your skin is clean¹
- not touch your wound. If you do need to touch the wound, you should wash your hands beforehand
- tell the nurse who is caring for you if you are worried about your wound.
How would I know if I had a wound infection?
You should watch for any of the following symptoms:
- the skin around your wound becoming red, swollen, hot or painful
- your wound having a green or yellow coloured discharge (pus)
- feeling generally unwell or feverish or you have a temperature above 38°C (100.4°F).
What should I do if I have any of these symptoms at home?
These symptoms could be a sign you have a wound infection. You should contact your GP, the Out of Hours Service or NHS 111 for advice. (See contact numbers).
What happens if I develop a wound infection?
Your nurse or doctor may take a swab from the surface of your wound and send it to a laboratory for testing. You may be given treatment with antibiotics.
If you have any worries or concerns you should contact your GP during normal surgery hours. Outside surgery hours, you should contact your GP’s surgery for the Out of Hours Service number, or you can contact NHS 111.
If you need further advice or have any problems, you can talk to an infection prevention and control nurse.
Infection Prevention and Control Team
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust
Telephone: 01642 383280
Opening hours: 8:30am to 4:00pm (Monday to Friday)
Further information is available from:
Telephone: 111 (when it is less urgent than 999).
Calls to this number are free from landlines and mobile phones or via the website.
Surgical Site Infections: prevention and treatment. NICE Guideline (NG125) April 2019. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng125.
Surgical Site Infection. NICE Quality Standard (QS49) October 2013. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs49.
Comments, concerns, compliments or complaints
Patient Experience Team (PET)
We are continually trying to improve the services we provide. We want to know what we’re doing well or if there’s anything which we can improve, that’s why the Patient Experience Team (PET) is here to help. Our Patient Experience Team is here to try to resolve your concerns as quickly as possible. The office is based on the ground floor at the University Hospital of North Tees if you wish to discuss concerns in person. If you would like to contact or request a copy of our PET leaflet, please contact:
Telephone: 01642 624719
Freephone: 0800 092 0084
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:00pm
Email: [email protected]
Out of hours
Out of hours if you wish to speak to a senior member of Trust staff, please contact the hospital switchboard who will bleep the appropriate person.
Telephone: 01642 617617
Data protection and use of patient information
The Trust has developed Data Protection policies in accordance with Data Protection Legislation (UK General Data Protection Regulations and Data Protection Act 2018) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All of our staff respect these policies and confidentiality is adhered to at all times. If you require further information on how we process your information please see our Privacy Notices.
Telephone: 01642 383551
Email: [email protected]Privacy Notices
This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be improved are extremely valuable. Please write to the Clinical Governance team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital of North Tees, TS19 8PE or:
Email: [email protected]
Leaflet reference: PIL1309
Date for review: 12 May 2024