South-west NHS trust fined after failure to contain dermatitis

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An NHS hospitals trust in the south-west has received a fine and costs of almost £20,000 following a 5-year failure to contain cases of a skin condition.

Irritant contact dermatitis in hospital
A magistrates' court in Torquay heard in February that dermatitis afflicted 23 members of hospital staff from 2007 to 2012.

The trust admitted failure to prevent or monitor dermatitis following a swoop by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors.

According to current legislation, the HSE must be advised if hospitals identify any cases of the disease.

Contact with irritants causes disease

Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) can strike after persistent skin contact with irritants over time. The disease damages skin cells and leads to flaking, swelling, cracking and blistering, mainly in the hands.

A variant, allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is usually the result of a reaction to an inflammatory or rash-producing substance.

Staff information should have contained skin conditions

The court was told that dermatitis is a particular problem for hospital staff due to the need to frequently keep their hands clean and wear latex and surgical gloves.

However, staff received little information about how to limit the threat of infection by properly drying their hands and using moisturisers and hygienic gel.

GP referrals – but no action

The court found the trust had neglected to make regular staff health checks for skin complaints. Whenever symptoms were noted by employees, they were simply referred to their GPs.

Finding the trust had breached the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, the court imposed a fine of £10,000 plus £9,620 costs.

Emma O'Hara of HSE said a trust of 5,000 employees had not put in place a proper management system to mitigate dermatitis. "[This is] a recognised condition in the health sector… a painful and often unsightly condition which can affect the individual psychologically, socially and physically."

"Training is key" – Costin

Emma Costin, head of industrial disease at the law firm Simpson Millar LLP, said that containing the threat of dermatitis in a hospital should not be difficult.

"This case suggests that education and employee training is the real key, which goes back to basic management. All medical staff should be encouraged at every turn to take the simple but effective safety measures that are available to them."


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