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Surgical site infection (SSI) is a common postoperative complication and can cause avoidable morbidity and excessive costs for the health service. Novel dressings, designed specifically for postoperative wounds, can help to reduce the risk of SSI and other complications such as blistering. This study compared the use of a new polyurethane film surgical dressing (Opsite Post-Op Visible, Smith & Nephew, Hull, UK) with gauze and tape in the management of postoperative wounds. The results show that the polyurethane film dressing results in a significant reduction in SSI (1·4% versus 6·6%, P = 0·006) as well as a reduction in other postoperative wound complications (e.g. blistering and erythema). Economic analysis conducted alongside the study suggests that these improved outcomes can be achieved at a lower treatment cost than gauze and tape dressings. The modest incremental cost of the polyurethane film surgical dressing is easily offset by the reduction in the costs related to treating SSI and other wound complications associated with gauze and tape dressings.