The Bluebelle Study: Undressing wound infections

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Bluebelle Alleyne, the inspiration behind the Bluebelle Study

Wound infections are a common complication of surgical procedures, and contribute major costs for the NHS as well as pain, discomfort and inconvenience for patients.  A new study will examine whether a main trial comparing wound dressings with no dressings is possible and whether dressings are effective in reducing infection and helping surgical wounds to heal.

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham have received funding from the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the Bluebelle Study - a comprehensive look at the role of wound dressings in preventing infection.

A wide variety of wound dressings are presently available, ranging from simple ones to more complex ones designed to improve healing. 

Whilst application of wound dressings is standard practice following surgery in adults, it is rare to apply dressings to wounds in surgery in children. This was discovered by Professor Blazeby while she assisted in the surgery of a young girl called Bluebelle Alleyne, and thus provided inspiration for the Bluebelle Study.

A scientific review has found no evidence to suggest that covering surgical wounds with dressings reduces the risk of wound infection, or that any particular wound dressing is more effective than another.

Researchers will also look at improving how wound infection is defined and measured as the current methods vary.

Professor Jane Blazeby, from the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol, will lead the research. She explained: “We know that infections complicate up to a quarter of all operations. Although every effort is made to reduce the risk of wound infection, controversy remains surrounding the role of wound dressings. Current evidence is very poor. The Bluebelle Study aims to establish whether a full trial is possible and the best methods for undertaking the trial.”

After seeking the views of patients and health professionals, researchers will design a pilot  randomised controlled trial involving 335 patients. The pilot trial will establish if the main trial is possible – this is likely to include over 1,000 patients and will compare the effectiveness of wound dressing types in general and obstetric surgery. 

The Bluebelle Study is an NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) funded project (Ref: 12/200/04) being carried out at the University of Bristol, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, North Bristol NHS Trust and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Researchers working on the study from the University of Birmingham include Dr Lazaros Andronis , Professor Melanie Calvert, Professor Jo Coast, Dr Jonathan Mathers, Dr Christel McMullan and Mr Tom Pinkney.