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Expensive air mattresses only offer marginal benefit to patients, study authors say

Specialist foam mattresses are effective for preventing pressure ulcers – and far cheaper

Specialist foam mattresses are effective for preventing pressure ulcers – and far cheaper


Picture: SPL

Providing specialist foam mattresses, rather than expensive high-tech air mattresses, could be appropriate for most patients at high risk of developing pressure ulcers, authors of a study have suggested.

Researchers at the University of Leeds assessed more than 2,000 older patients at high risk of developing pressure ulcers in NHS hospitals and community units.

They found that alternating pressure mattresses (APMs), which inflate and deflate to change pressure points on the skin, only resulted in marginal gains for this group of patients.

APMs cost at least £1,000 each and are used on around 10% of NHS hospital beds.

Narrow margin of effectiveness between mattresses

A total of 6.9% of patients on the APMs developed a grade two pressure ulcer or worse, compared with 8.9% on a high-specification foam mattress (HSF).

HSFs cost £200 and comprise polyurethane and viscoelastic foam that is designed to cradle the patient to reduce pressure on the skin.

The research paper concludes that for every 50 patients allocated to an APM, only one would benefit from it.

Less expensive mattress is appropriate in most cases

Deputy director of the Clinical Trials Research Unit at the University of Leeds, Jane Nixon, who was lead researcher for the study, said the research shows HSFs are appropriate for most patients at risk of developing pressure ulcers.

But she added that staff should exercise clinical discretion in provision of either mattress, informed by patient risk factor and need.

Programme director and strategic nurse adviser at the NHS England/NHS Improvement nursing directorate, Jennie Hall, said the directorate would work with the study’s authors and front-line staff to understand how the findings may be used in clinical practice.


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