A dental nurse who worked for the Central Manchester Primary Care Trust has received damages of £200,000 after contracting occupational dermatitis and had to be medically retired from work. The 50 year old woman, who lives in Manchester and worked for the NHS for over 30 years, faces a future catalogue of challenges because of her condition. She secured the award with the assistance of her union, UNISON, and Thompsons Solicitors.

During the course of her employment with the Trust, between 1980 and 2004, the woman was provided with powdered and non-powdered latex gloves to perform her dental duties.

In 2003 she noticed that her wrists had become uncomfortably itchy. She was referred for tests and then told in January 2004 by a doctor that her condition was latex related and that it was so serious that she could no longer safely work in a dental surgery.

Latex Allergy

“I was devastated at being told that I wouldn’t be able to work in the dentist surgery again,” said the woman. “I began working for the Health Service in 1974, straight from school. I loved my job and can’t believe that a latex allergy could cause so many problems, and not just at work.”

Caroline Bedale, UNISON Branch Secretary, said: “Latex products are a known danger to dental and other healthcare workers because they are at increased risk of latex allergy. This case demonstrates the critical importance of all employers having proper policies, not only to protect staff from developing latex allergy, but also for the safe handling of patients with known or suspected latex allergy.”

Andy Gill, UNISON Regional Officer, added: “Whilst pleased that this settlement has been reached, no-one should underestimate the impact on our member and the fact that she had to give up the job she loved since leaving school. We will always represent our members if they have been negligently harmed in the workplace in any way.”

Commenting, the woman’s representative at Thompsons Solicitors, Imogen Wetton, said: “The impact of a latex allergy causes no end of difficulties for sufferers. My client cannot wear jewellery with nickel in it, nor can she wear any clothes with metal zips. She has to avoid any rubber handled items and wear cork inner soles. She has to sleep with cotton gloves on and has to regularly apply steroid creams. She has to avoid washing up and ironing. She can’t even use the TV remote control as it has rubber buttons. The list goes on and on and it’s a living nightmare for sufferers.

“The Trust ought to have known by 1996 at the latest that the powdered latex gloves were a potential danger to users yet it was not until September 1998 that a memo was issued for the gloves to be changed to a non powdered alternative and only then when existing stocks were exhausted. There could and should have been alerts to the dangers and risks much earlier and they should have provided a non latex alternative.”

Damages were claimed for injury, past and future loss of earnings, loss of pension, prescriptions, care / services and expenses.