Australian Medical Sheepskin

Australian Medical Sheepskin

Australian Medical Sheepskins prevent pressure ulcers

Supported by an Australian Standard, CSIRO's research has markedly improved the effectiveness and durability of sheepskins used in hospitals and nursing homes.

  • 9 May 2008 | Updated 14 January 2013

A sore point

A major cause of patient pain and suffering and additional healthcare costs in hospitals and aged care facilities – pressure ulcers (bed sores) – can be more than halved by using a simple but effective bedding overlay product developed by CSIRO.

About pressure ulcers

Pressure ulcers result from tissue breakdown caused by:

  • pressure at susceptible sites
  • friction at the point of contact between patient and supporting surface
  • moisture or humidity build-up close to the skin.

The problem is of international importance.

A survey conducted in the USA in 1999 estimated the annual cost of pressure ulcers to the American healthcare system at US$3.6 billion. The results of this study therefore are significant for healthcare systems world-wide.

Medical sheepskins had been used in hospitals for many years. Their quality varied and frequent laundering shortened their life. There was no established scientific basis for manufacture and formal standardisation of effective, durable medical sheepskins.

What CSIRO did

CSIRO has been tackling this problem since 1998 when, in collaboration with the Standards Australia, a team developed the new Australian Medical Sheepskin (AMS) produced in accordance with the internationally recognised Australian Standard AS4480.1.

The Standard is endorsed by the Australian Health Department and the Department for Industry, Science and Resources.

Australian Medical Sheepskins cut the incidence of pressure ulcers by 58 per cent, and withstand multiple washing at 80 °C in a hospital environment.

Important components of the Standard are:

  • wool type
  • fibre length
  • the final finish
  • the ability of the wool and skin to withstand many wash/dry cycles without deterioration.

Specifically designed to reduce pressure, minimise skin-shear and friction and absorb moisture, the AMS is more supportive than previous products. A novel tanning process also means that they can withstand multiple washes at 80 °C to achieve high-level thermal disinfection. It represents a significant advance in leather technology.

Australian Medical Sheepskins meet performance requirements in nursing homes and hospitals, including specialist units such as operating theatres and intensive care units. They are especially effective against pressure ulcers because their ultra-dense wool pile greatly reduces pressure, friction and moisture.

A collaborative effort

Researchers in our leather, wool processing, and comfort laboratories combined resources for this project, working in collaboration with the Meat Research Corporation, Fleececraft Industries and Standards Australia together with the support of the local Australian woolskin tanning industry.

About the researchers

Dr Ken Montgomery (now retired) led the project from the development of the Australian Standard through two clinical trials. He was assisted by Mr Mark Hickey, who currently runs the industry consultancy service.

Other CSIRO team members were Mrs Jacinta Meyer, Dr Yen Truong, Mr Ray Reddie, Mr Vic Perri and Ms Marta Duklan.

Read the Australian Medical Sheepskins brochure.