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How Important is Rubber in the Medical Industry?

Rubber is a versatile material that has become increasingly important in the medical industry over the years. As one of the world's fastest growing and largest industries, the health care sector makes up more than 10% of the gross domestic product of most developed countries.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, an additional 3.2 million new health-related jobs will be created over the next eight years. The reason for this is because people are living longer and an ageing population requires more health care.

Rubber gloves

© Aleksandr Rybalko / Adobe Stock


Medical industry growth

The Global Health and Ageing report estimates that the number of people aged 65 or older will grow from 524 million to almost 1.5 billion over the next 30 years.

In addition, the first Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) turned 65 in 2011. As a result, it's estimated that there will be twice as many hospital admissions and doctors' visits for Baby Boomers by 2030, as the generation becomes geriatric.

The medical industry has had to develop to deal with increasing demands. Rubber is playing an integral part in providing a cost-effective means of keeping pace with developments in health care.


Versatility of rubber

Rubber has become a common base for medical supplies because of its low cost and availability. Initially, natural rubber was used, but after the synthetic form of the material, silicone, became widely available, this was an added bonus. Patients who were allergic to natural rubber were able to use synthetic rubber, maximising the use of rubber products in every department.

The medical industry consists of various sectors, including the manufacture of medical equipment to diagnose and monitor health conditions, the production of medicines and medical products, hospitals, GPs' surgeries, health care facilities and more.

A very wide range of categories of care depend on rubber. Rubber's versatility enables it to set a standard for medical supplies.


Uses for rubber

A number of devices within the medical industry rely on rubber and would be unable to operate effectively without its existence. Unique properties make it ideal for rubber tubing - used on a widespread level as a sanitary means of transferring fluids, including blood. Rubber’s flexibility also makes it the number one choice for key hospital products, such as leg straps which are used to attach fluid bags to the patient’s body.

Crucial for the manufacture of the rubber gloves used by medical staff in all facilities, it is used to make components for needles used for injections. It also makes tubes, caps and stoppers. Even the wheels and castors on hospital beds and trolleys are part-made from rubber.

Other products that wouldn't exist in the medical sector if it wasn't for rubber include tubing, rubber rollers, blood pressure cuffs, catheters, cardiac pacemaker leads, rubber cords, diaphragms and condoms - latex products are used in the battle against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

It is standard practice to sterilise final products to remove any microbial contamination. The commonly-used sterilisation methods for medical devices include dry heat, ethylene oxide, steam autoclaving, electron beams and gamma radiation. Vulcanised rubber can withstand the many different methods of sterilisation.


Can anything replace rubber?

At the moment, rubber remains a very important material when it comes to the medical industry, not only because of its versatility and ability to adapt, but also because it's cost-effective. There is currently no viable alternative to the widespread use of rubber and latex.

A report in the Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry Magazine said that a "direct replacement material" with all the properties of natural rubber wasn't available. It stated that silicone was a good alternative for people with rubber allergies and suggested thermoplastic elastomers could be used instead of natural rubber in some medical devices.

However, the report concluded that replacing natural rubber continued to be a challenge. For the foreseeable future at least, rubber will continue to be of great importance to the medical industry.

Coruba is a leading UK manufacturer of standard and bespoke rubber products for industrial, commercial and residential applications. Give us a call on 01702 811937 for more information.

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