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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Rubber allergy: 'One in 10 at risk'
gloved worker
Many healthcare workers use latex gloves
As much as 10% of the NHS workforce is at risk of severe allergic reactions against the latex gloves or equipment they use every day, say campaigners.

The TUC report, Rubber Banned, claims up to 100,000 workers may have developed the allergy at work.

The reaction is to a protein found naturally on rubber latex, and many hospitals have been forced to bring in alternative types of glove and equipment to protect staff.

The TUC says hundreds of workplaces still use the old-style latex which can cause the problem.

For the sake of a few pence for a pack of gloves, workers' health is being put at risk

Owen Tudor, TUC
The gloves were widely introduce to combat the threat of spreading diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

Its Senior Health and Safety Policy Officer, Owen Tudor, said: "Latex gloves were once seen as part of the solution to occupational diseases - but now they're part of the problem."

He said: "For the sake of a few pence for a pack of gloves, workers' health is being put at risk, and patient health is compromised.

"There are good examples where NHS Trusts have done the right thing. So if it can be done right, it must be done right."

Once workers have become sensitised to rubber latex, they are allergic to it in all its forms, including in balloons and condoms.

The effects of coming into contact with it can be upsetting.

Jacqueline Kershaw, a practice nurse from Halifax, West Yorkshire, worked in the NHS for more than 20 years.

Both her and a colleague suffered from an itchy red rash on their hands.

She said: "We couldn't work out what was causing it. Then, one evening when I was in surgery, I put on a pair of gloves.

Even leaning over a box of latex gloves gives me rashes

Jacqueline Kershaw
"A rash developed on my hands and spread up my arms straightaway.

"Luckily for me the GP was in the room next door and I rushed in to him. He gave me medication on the spot."

Jacqueline's allergy is severe: "Even leaning over a box of latex gloves gives me rashes."

Fiona McKie-Bell worked in Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, and began to suffer severe allergic reactions to latex.

She was forced to retire from her job at the age of 25.

Shock treatment

Then, while having a wisdom tooth removed, a dentist used a syringe with a latex component, and she went into anaphylactic shock, spending three days an intensive care unit.

The experience left her with latex-induced asthma, requiring the use of adrenaline to help her breathing.

Ms McKie-Bell said: "One of the most distressing things was being unable to spend much time with my mother who was terminally-ill in hospital, because of airborne latex.

"I can't even go to parties anymore. I was recently invited to a formal dinner, but my face swelled up and I couldn't breathe - simply because the room had been decorated with a couple of hundred balloons."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it had sent out guidance on three separate occasions about the problems of latex sensitisation.

In the most recent, in 1999, hospital chief executives were told to make sure they had policies in place to help those affected work safely.

He added: "Staff who have indications that they may be developing an allergy to latex are required to inform their employers in order that the employer can carry out their duty of care and arrange for their jobs to be modified or provide alternative protective covering.

"We recommend the use of alternative gloves if risk assessment indicates they would be best in individual circumstances."

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