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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Calls to cut risks to nurses
Nurses at work
Nurses face workplace health and safety problems

A nurse who was forced to quit her job with a work-related illness is an example of the specialist staff the NHS can ill afford to lose, claims a health union.

Wendy Mitchelmore received a 146,000 payout after developing asthma from direct exposure to glutaraldehyde - a disinfectant - while working for Gwynedd NHS Hospital.

She was forced to quit her job at 36 and the trust later accepted liability for failing to undertake proper risk assessments.

The Royal College of Nursing, which backed her case, says it is concerned by a National Audit Office report, which highlights trusts could do more to prevent other such incidents.


The report comes as health trusts continue to battle to recruit and retain nursing staff.

A separate RCN study of 1,300 nurses in Wales - Value Nursing - revealed 40% had been involved in some kind of violent incident during a 12-month period, which the union called "alarming".

Nurse and baby
Nursing union chiefs want higher standards

More than one third of nurses had also suffered a workplace accident or injury and 27% had gone on sick leave as a result of bullying, accident or assault.

Mrs Mitchelmore was left unable to work in any profession involving exposure to chemicals and irritants.

"It was a real shock to have to retire from my job at the age of 36," she said. "I've always been in nursing, training as a nurse and as a midwife."

The union has launched its own safety campaign, Be Sharp Be Safe, and an anti-violence initiative, Working Well.

Prince Charles Hospital staff nurse Gaynor Jones, who sits on the RCN's council in Wales, said hazards are part of a nurse's job.

She said positive moves have included carrying out checks on nurses for lung function, plaster product reactions and infection control measures.

But continuing hazards included manual handling and sharp object injuries, falls and handling hazardous substances.

She said: "The message that has to go out to employers is to take health and safety seriously and get all the problems sorted out.

Hopefully, trusts will realise they cannot afford to put staff at risk and take more progressive action
Gaynor Jones, staff nurse, Prince Charles Hospital

"We are already short of nurses and we cannot afford to lose any more."

She added: "If that happens, at the end of the day, the patients suffer and they are the ones we are there for."

Mrs Jones cited the long campaign for latex-free gloves, after problems with skin allergies, as an example of the NHS's slow culture of change.


"Some areas are moving at a snail's pace," she said.

"Hopefully, trusts will realise they cannot afford to put staff at risk and take more progressive action to ensure the safety and health of staff and patients becomes paramount."

Mike Travis, RCN council member, added: "It's clear from the report that workplace accidents are a significant factor in nurse sickness."

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