Skin conditions in the Health Care industry
For decades the National Health Service has been a lifeline for people throughout the UK. As one of the only nations in the world to provide its citizens with free health care, it’s something that makes many proud to be British. Countless doctors, nurses, health care assistants, cleaners, porters and volunteers make all of this possible by using specialist skills developed over time but what about the healthcare of these employees?
Over the last few years there has been a focus on the prevalence of skin conditions within the healthcare industry and it is now being reported by the HSE that there are approximately 1000 new cases of dermatitis being reported by nurses each year . According to figures 91% of organisations are unable to identify the approximate incidence of dermatitis among staff. With this in mind, it becomes difficult to pinpoint what is causing the problems from a management/HR level, we can however explore why the condition is so common within the industry and some of the direct factors leading to contact dermatitis.
The term contact dermatitis usually applies when people come into direct contact with a substance that causes a skin irritation locally. Other forms of dermatitis can be constitutional such as eczema and acute allergic dermatitis can arise from a reaction to something ingested, inhaled or touched and can affect all areas of the body not just the area that substance has touched. The most common form within healthcare is contact dermatitis.
All members of staff from cleaners to doctors are required to wash their hands very frequently due to hygiene and contamination purposes. Soap and water itself is obviously not harmful to skin but when you are required to wash your hands after each procedure this can cause problems. Soap and water not only washes bacteria from your hands, it also washes off natural skin oil which keeps the skin hydrated. When skin is constantly being cleaned and this oil is being washed off frequently the skin can dry out, crack and become raw leading to dermatitis. Alcohol gels can cause similar problems to soap and water as they also dry out skin.
It is out of the question to ask healthcare staff to reduce or even stop washing their hands however employers can provide hand creams to rehydrate skin and rotor staff on different tasks throughout the day so breaks from hand washing can happen.
Another cause of dermatitis in health care workers can be chemicals that are being used around hospitals. Cleaners are the most likely to come into contact with these types of chemicals but as the environment needs to be as clean and as sterile as possible anyone could be susceptible.
A high risk area for allergic contact dermatitis is the provision of latex gloves to carry out certain procedures. In some cases the gloves can contain powder that can dry out hands when in use and after, other gloves may not contain the powder but latex itself can cause allergic reactions. In rare circumstances people can use the gloves for a number of years before a reaction happens making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of dermatitis. This can happen because an individual’s “tolerance” to a specific substance or material can weaken over time; at some point the individual may experience a skin reaction from out of nowhere. In these circumstances we would always advise seeking a patch test to see what has caused the reaction.
Roberts Jackson Solicitors deal with many cases of dermatitis emerging from the health care industry and many of the circumstances are similar to those detailed here. If you work or have worked in the health care industry in the past and suffer from a skin condition it may be best seeking advice from your GP to establish the exact cause. Roberts Jackson can run claims for compensation if the condition has been cause by work so please do not hesitate to get in touch to find out more about your legal rights and how we can help you.