GLASGOW researchers have developed a method of preventing patients from developing debilitating bed sores.
The agonising ulcers occur when bedridden people are unable to move, causing pressure to be concentrated on one area of skin.
This pressure disrupts the blood flow to the skin, depriving the tissue of oxygen and nutrients, and causing an ulcer or infection. If a sore becomes infected it can cause deadly blood poisoning.
Bio-engineering firm HCi Viocare, which designs prosthetic limbs, is pioneering the use of sensor technology to combat the problem in the designs for its smart mattresses and wheelchair cushions.
Tiny electronic sensors will prompt the mattress or cushion to automatically adjust when it senses potentially harmful pressure so that the patient can be moved around to help prevent ulcers forming.
Dr Christos Kapatos, chief technical officer, said: “We were delighted with the rapid and highly positive response to our smart insole invention – a reaction that has led us to expand our range of innovations.
“We are now moving forward with new applications for our core technology, and continue to seek new partners who wish to commercialise this next generation of health products.
Tackling pressure sores was identified as a key priority in the Scottish Government’s Patient Safety Programme in 2008 to reduce the number of people injured or dying from the condition.
The news has been welcomed by nursing leaders.
Lynn McDowell, senior officer at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland, said of bed sores: “They are a huge problem for anybody who is in bed or in a chair for long periods of time.
“If someone is malnourished or dehydrated then they can be particularly vulnerable to this sort of pressure.”
Medics must be vigilant to ensure patients do not develop bedsores, she said, and nurses should perform regular checks on vulnerable patients.
McDowell said: “If you have a typical incident for an elderly person, such as a fracture, then unless they are moved regularly and properly looked after, these can develop.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland is currently developing new standards for the treatment of bed sores. In a report published last month, the agency noted that incidents of sepsis caused by ulcers had risen in 2013 in Scotland.
McDowell said: “There is a lot of money being spent on keeping people in hospital and procurement for bandages and other treatment for pressure sores.
“Anything at all which is going to look at addressing the problem would be welcomed. It must mean hundreds of thousands of pounds for the NHS.”
HCi Viocare attracted praise earlier this year for the invention of the smart insole, a device with tiny sensors that monitors diabetics’ feet.
The electronic insole could detect unwanted pressure on parts of the foot and send a text or a Twitter message to the owner to warn them to check their feet.
People with diabetes often lose feeling in their feet, so they fail to notice cuts and bruises which can turn into ulcers and infections.