A SIMPLE, low-tech honey treatment could dramatically cut infections after caesarean births and save the NHS millions of pounds, a Winchester study has found.

Nationally, one-in-10 women who give birth by C-section develop an infection in the scar which causes pain and discomfort, affecting 14,000 women per year.

Not only are these complications distressing to the women and their families, warn researchers, they are also costly to the NHS.

But Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at Hampshire Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust, said evidence indicates a single application of a substance, called Surgihoney, immediately after surgery could reduce infection rates by 60 per cent.

Dr Dryden is lead author in a peer-reviewed report, published last month in the British Journal of Midwifery, which concluded: “Surgihoney offers a simple, cost-effective intervention to reduce surgical site infection in women undergoing caesarean sections.”

The study compared 186 women who had a single application of Surgihoney after a C-section at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester between October 2012, and January 2013, with 590 caesarean births in the previous nine months.

Researchers found that 2.15 per cent developed an infection after a Surgihoney dressing, compared to 5.4 per in the nine months before it was introduced.

Infection rates at the hospital are half the national average.

The honey treatment was applied to the sterile dressing by the obstetrician or theatre nurse at the end of the operation.

Women who give birth by C-section currently have their skin disinfected by surgeons before the incision is made to reduce bacteria, but it is not standard practise to use antimicrobial dressings.

A reason for this may be that most chemical antiseptics can be damaging to healing tissue, suggests the study.

Surgihoney has been developed by Healing Honey International as a wound-care product.

While all honey contains natural antibacterial agents, Surgihoney has been modified to make it even better at beating bugs.

The new findings suggest Surgihoney could change the way surgical wounds are managed and reduce the use of antibiotics. Further studies are needed to investigate its potential, said researchers.

In addition to the health advantages to women, the NHS could profit from an estimated £5m savings if Surgihoney led to a 60 per cent fall in infections after caesarean births across the UK, says the study.

Surgihoney is approved for use in the UK and other parts of the world as a medical device, but is not yet commercially available. It was developed by entrepreneurs Ian Staples, former MD of Halfords, and his son, Stuart, who owned a farm in Chile with bee hives and enlisted the help of scientists in Ireland to investigate honey’s healing properties.