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Rubber Banned – case studies

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The following are case studies extracted from the TUC publication Rubber Banned – the case against latex, issued as a part of their campaign against the use of latex where it can develop serious health risks for employees and the general public.

Link to the ‘Erasing the rubber health risk’ article

Case 1

Jacqueline Kershaw, a practice nurse from Halifax, has been working in the NHS for over 20 years.

‘A colleague and I both noticed that our hands were covered in an itchy red rash. We couldn’t work out what was causing it. Then one evening, when I was in surgery, I put on a pair of gloves. A rash developed on my hands and spread up my arms almost straightaway. Then my neck started swelling up. 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 was diagnosed with type 1 latex allergy. ‘Even leaning over a box of latex gloves gives me rashes on my face and neck. And because latex is in so many products, it affects my everyday life.’

Case 2

When Janet was diagnosed with latex allergy it was to mark the beginning of the end of her career as a radiographer.

‘I’d been complaining for 10 years about the effects of latex gloves on my hands, and was fobbed off by my supervisor who just told me I had ‘funny skin’.’

After reading an article in a professional journal, bells rang and Janet went to Occupational Health. ‘I described the problems caused by latex gloves and, once, by blowing up balloons. I was immediately referred to an Asthma Specialist for skin testing’.

Janet was referred to a consultant: ‘I was told I had a potentially fatal allergy to latex. Since then I have had to carry adrenaline, antihistamines, an inhaler and a mobile phone wherever I go.’

Janet rang her union (the Society of Radiographers) and was taken off work whilst the department was made safe. She says: ‘Despite their efforts, I got back and found latex gloves in the room as well as a latex-equipped resuscitation trolley.’

The Society of Radiographers took Janet’s case to court and she was offered a settlement out of court last year. ‘This was not for loss of earnings but for pain and suffering. Latex allergy is frightening, expensive, and a nuisance. But it is also avoidable – latex free gloves don’t cost much more than latex gloves, but people’s lives are constantly put at risk, all because of a bit of penny-pinching.’

Case 3

Judith Barnes worked as a State Registered Chiropodist In Lancashire.

‘I developed type 1 latex allergy through wearing powdered latex gloves at work in the NHS. Despite switching to wearing vinyl gloves everyone else continued to use latex gloves, which led to more allergic reactions. I was forced to take ill-health retirement – even though I was only 34.’

Judith decided to sue her employer and after a long battle, lasting over three years she finally won.

Her Health Trust admitted liability for causing latex allergy and made the medical environment safer.

Judith feels that her life now is totally changed. She cannot go swimming or to the gym anymore. Visits to shops have to be short and certain shops avoided altogether. She has learned to be vigilant at all times. ‘This is not hypochondria’ Judith says: ‘I know how ill you can feel with latex allergy, and no matter what any doctor says, it is potentially life-threatening’.

Judith adds: ‘On a hospital visit to a dermatologist who was using powdered latex gloves, I ended up in casualty surrounded by doctors, given oxygen, steroids and antihistamines. I have also had problems at the dentist and had to have a minor operation cancelled due to the risk of allergy in theatre.’

‘All this is due to ignorance, but I and many others are left with a life long allergy which money alone cannot compensate.’

Case 4

Fiona McKie-Bell worked at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary where she wore latex gloves. She started to experience anaphylactic reactions to latex which included swelling up of the face, lips and airways whilst working and was eventually forced into medical retirement at the age of 25.

However the pain and suffering did not stop for Fiona after retiring.

Fiona was due to have a wisdom tooth removed under local anaesthetic at a large teaching hospital. Although the dentist knew she was allergic to natural rubber latex (NRL), a syringe with an NRL bung was inadvertently used, and Fiona suffered an anaphylactic reaction. She spent the next few days in the intensive treatment unit, where she had several more anaphylactic reactions. Since then she has been hospitalised 50 times in only eight months. She uses nebulised adrenaline to help her breathing and is virtually housebound.

Case 5

Clare (not her real name) was working as a dentist in Yorkshire and had worn latex gloves seven hours daily since 1985. Low protein gloves were available but expensive at the time. Clare had problems with her hands for some years, but then started to get other symptoms.

‘I started to get conjunctivitis and rhinitis. While investigations for possible latex allergy were being carried out, I also started to get asthma. I changed from low protein powder free latex gloves (which by then were becoming available at an economic price) to latex free, and my condition improved’.

However after about eight months, Clare’s wheezing started again, even though none of her colleagues were using latex gloves. Clare ended up using antihistamines every day and finally got to the stage where acute asthma attacks were happening within minutes of entering her workplace.

‘I took a month off work to allow the condition to settle and then returned to work for one day a week, using antihistamines and steroid inhalers. But even staying in the room for an hour made the wheezing started again and my face swell up.’

A chest physician confirmed latex induced asthma and doubted whether it would be possible for the dentist to continue work, even for one day per week. ‘It took two and a half years to get an NHS pension settled’, says Clare, who is now working in administrative roles mainly from home. ‘Although dentists are aware of latex allergy, they have no occupational health support. As (mainly) self employed, they are under pressure to continue working.’

Like other case studies featured in the report, Clare’s latex allergy pervaded her personal life: ‘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 cannot even go to parties anymore. I was recently invited to a formal dinner where my husband was to presented with an award. My face started to swell up and I couldn’t breath – just because the room had been decorated with a couple of hundred balloons.’

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