A hospital worker who developed painful dermatitis through being made to repeatedly use a strong alcohol-based hand rub has received £44,000 in compensation after help from her trade union.

Georgina Thornton, 62, from Saltash, was eventually forced to leave her job as a lead healthcare assistant for Derriford Hospital because the skin on her hands became so sensitive to the alcohol rub she developed painful reoccurring sores.

Mrs Thornton, who had worked in hospitals all of her working life, has been unsuccessful at applying for jobs in other workplaces and fears her condition means she will never work again.

Using hand rub up to 40 times per shift

She first noticed her hands were becoming red and itchy in August 2007. The hospital had introduced a strong alcohol rub the previous year called Softalind Pure Blue Label and due to an MRSA scare staff were required to use the rub at the start and end of every shift, before they dealt with each patient, after visiting the toilet and when entering and leaving wards.

This meant that Mrs Thornton, who dealt with 20 to 25 patients each shift, was using the rub up to 40 times per shift, as well as having to use soap and water after dealing with each patient.

Her doctor diagnosed her with dermatitis and said it was likely caused by the alcohol rub at her work.

Despite being prescribed several types of steroid cream during the next two years, and periods off on sick leave, the dermatitis would return every time she went back to work.

The hospital trust was aware of the problem with her hands but nothing was done to address the cause.

She was eventually medically retired.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

Her dermatitis is largely under control now but she must wear gloves to do tasks like washing the dishes, housework and gardening to prevent further flare-ups. She will now always have a sensitivity to alcohol rubs and as a result can no longer work in a hospital environment.

Mrs Thornton decided to pursue compensation after advice from her trade union, the GMB.

The GMB instructed its lawyers, Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for compensation.

Thompsons argued that the trust had failed to risk assess use of the hand rub, failed to warn her about the risks of it causing health problems, failed to provide correct training on its use and failed to operate a safe working system.

Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust admitted liability and settled the claim out of court.

Alcohol rub which was far too strong for repetitive use

Mrs Thornton said: “I am extremely worried about what my future holds. My condition means I can no longer work in a hospital environment and whilst I’m applying for alternative jobs the market place is extremely tough and so far I’ve been unsuccessful.

“I loved my job at the hospital and I was devastated that I had to give it up. I’ve had to learn to think very differently about the way I do things with my hands now. I have to wear gloves for most things to ensure that the dermatitis doesn’t flare up again.”

John Phillips, GMB South West Region Secretary from the GMB added: “Dermatitis is a painful but avoidable condition. In this case the hospital was using a type of alcohol rub which was far too strong for repetitive use of this nature. A simple risk assessment by the trust would have highlighted the need to use a more suitable rub to prevent staff developing skin conditions”

Kevin Digby from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Health and safety regulations that control the use of hazardous substances are clear about employers’ obligations to protect staff and how this can be done. And yet the Trust continued to expose Mrs Thornton to this hand rub long after she had developed the condition. The government constantly attacks health and safety regulations and wants to water them down, but this case demonstrates how much cheaper it is for employers to protect the health of staff than it is to have to pay them substantial compensation when their health is damaged. The Trust’s failings have forced a key employee to leave a profession she loved. If she hadn’t developed this condition she certainly would have continued with the Trust until she retired.”