Researchers at The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital say the use of simple, specially developed protective socks could help thousands of older people in the UK who suffer from a debilitating skin condition.
The STOPCUTS pilot trial monitored the effects of wearing the socks on volunteers prone to skin tears. The pilot study, funded by the NIHR’s Research for Patient Benefit programme, was to establish whether this type of research could be done at all in an older population in Devon, including residents in care homes.
“The community nursing bill for treating patients with skin tears and also those with leg ulcers is over £1.5 billion, so prevention could save the NHS a lot of money.”Dr Roy Powell
Lead researcher Dr Roy Powell said: “This is very much an overlooked area of healthcare. No-one really knows the true incidence of skin tears in the UK, but we estimate from local GP audits about 1,300 per 100,000 of the elderly population per year are affected and this figure has serious health implications. We know that treating skin tear injuries is the most common activity that community nurses offer. Skin tears are graded from one to three, according to their severity, with the worst level often requiring a skin graft. We think some skin tears turn into leg ulcers in patients with leg veins that don’t work very well, in that they are not efficient in returning blood to the heart. Ulcers are very difficult to treat and the patient often has to wear special compression bandages, which have to be changed frequently for weeks on end. The community nursing bill for treating patients with skin tears and also those with leg ulcers is over £1.5 billion, so prevention could save the NHS a lot of money.”
Ninety volunteers were recruited for the 16-week pilot study: 54 were from care homes and the remainder came from GP practices in East Devon. The participants were divided into two groups at random to either wear Dermatuff socks daily or go into the control group and wear their usual clothing. Care home staff and research nurses then photographed, measured and graded the severity of all skin tear injuries that occurred in the two groups.
At the end of the trial, 10 tears had occurred in eight out of 44 people in the group wearing the Dermatuff socks. However, eight of these tears happened when the participants were not actually wearing the socks. In the control group, 21 tears occurred in 10 out of the 46 participants wearing normal clothing.
“Research in NHS hospitals benefits NHS patients. This exciting trial could help prevent thousands of older patients from needing to undergo treatment for painful skin tears and leg ulcers, and could help save time for hardworking community nurses all over the UK. That’s why we have committed to invest £1bn every year of this Parliament in NHS Research through the national NIHR network of research centres, funding world class research to help NHS patients and avoid unnecessary treatment costs.”
George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences
The knee-length socks worn in the trial were designed by East Devon businessman, Peter Thornton, the former chairman of the Thornton’s chocolate firm. He came up with the idea after suffering from painful skin tears on both his arms and legs. He teamed up with Plymouth-based entrepreneur, Nick Pitts, to found Dermatuff.
A larger trial involving hundreds of patients from Exeter, East Devon and Bristol is now in the planning stages.