At least 100,000 NHS staff at risk from a potentially life-threatening allergy to latex, could be protected if hospitals and ambulances provided an alternative to the potentially deadly rubber glove, the TUC says in a report today (Wednesday).
The TUC report, Rubber banned – the case against latex, says that the number of sufferers includes at least one in ten workers in the NHS – 100,000 nurses, dental nurses and other health workers – who are likely to have developed the allergy as a result of protective measures taken at work. Providing an alternative to latex in the health service would prevent these NHS workers from developing the allergy in the first place, and protect the estimated half a million people already allergic to latex. There is no way to predict how severe the reaction will be when a latex allergy sufferer comes into contact with the rubber, but people have died as a result.
TUC 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. 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.”
Latex allergy has become common among health care workers since the 1980s when nurses were urged to wear latex gloves to protect them from blood-borne diseases like hepatitis. Safer gloves (e.g. those without the powder that induces the allergy in the first place) and other products are available, but are slightly more expensive. Other workers exposed to latex at work include cleaners, police staff, food workers and hairdressers.
The cause of latex allergy is the proteins used in some forms of latex. Once someone is sensitised to this however, they are allergic to all latex products. Latex allergy manifests itself mostly as asthma or skin conditions like dermatitis but some can suffer from potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shocks.
Rubber banned tells the stories of several women who have developed latex allergies and describes the effect on their working and everyday lives.