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RCN warns about contact dermatitis from hand washing


Dermatitis cases among nurses have become increasingly common because health workers are forced to repeatedly wash their hands to prevent the spread of infection, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

The college is developing guidance on how to prevent contact dermatitis after it emerged that many nurses in Scotland were suffering from the painful skin condition.

Some nurses at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness have had to be put on restrictive duties because the condition was preventing them from working at full capacity.

Hospital staff in Scotland are bound by policy to wash their hands between tasks and patients in order to avoid spreading infections like MRSA and C difficile.

The policy appears to be working as hospital acquired infections are the lowest they have ever been in Scotland, but the guidelines are having a detrimental effect on some nurses’ skin.

Consultant occupational physician for NHS Highland, Dr Steven Ryder, said: “Dermatitis is a common condition in the general population. Naturally, on occasions, we see nurses and other healthcare workers with dermatitis.

“Most cases are as a result of exposure to irritant factors, such as water, soap and detergents, alcohol gel and glove wear. With good hand care most resolve.”

A spokeswoman for RCN Scotland said the college’s guidance would be published next year.


Readers' comments (3)

  • This is rather rather interesting as it reinforces my suspicion that with time nurses are going to witness a surge of dermatitis resulting incessant use of alcohol gel to reduce cross infection. The downside of this is that we are eliminating the natural flora of our skin (Saprophytes) the presence of which prevents fungal growth.
    Why can't we use just hand washing as a technique to reduce cross infection?

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  • I'm an ICN and I have eczema on my hands. I find alcohol gel is better for my hands than repeated washing. Although it does depend on the gel.
    Alcohol gel does not interefere too much with the skin flora, beacause this lives just below the surface & gel does not sink in & have a residual effect. The non-alcohol decontaminants are worse offenders for residual effect.
    Just as a side point. I never had the condition on my hands until I was forced to wash all the time with chlorhexidine, back in the days when that was all that was available.

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  • If we look at the W.H.O guidance this has already been researched and is multifactoral
    Staff should not be confused about the need to clean their hands at the correct times.

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