Inappropriate use of gloves increases nurses’ risk of nasty skin complaints and may even exacerbate staffing shortages, says new in-depth guidance launched by the Royal College of Nursing.
The resource has been published as part of the college’s very first ever Glove Awareness Week, which is designed to raise awareness of skin health and appropriate use of gloves by nursing staff.
“We need all healthcare staff to think about glove use and to only wear them when required”
While gloves are essential for protecting healthcare workers from harmful chemicals, blood or bodily fluids, the document warns that using them too often can lead to skin problems such as contact dermatitis.
Meanwhile, failing to use gloves when necessary or wearing dirty gloves increases the risk of infections spreading.
The guide – titled Tools of the Trade: Guidance for health care staff on glove use and the prevention of contact dermatitis – provides advice to nursing staff and sets out the responsibilities of employers and managers when it comes to protecting staff from work-related skin problems.
An estimated 1,000 healthcare workers in the UK contract diagnosable work-related dermatitis each year, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive.
Yet this may well be the tip of the iceberg, noted the guidance, suggesting that half of all health workers may be affected in any one year.
“A contaminated or dirty glove is as bad as dirty hands”
It highlighted research by the University of Manchester, which found the incidence of dermatitis among healthcare staff had risen in recent years, linked to the drive to improve hand hygiene.
While nurses may be tempted to dismiss the problem as “just a bit of red skin”, the guidance stresses that it can be a painful and debilitating condition that makes people “miserable and withdrawn”.
“For some individuals, dermatitis can be a painful condition with cracked, bleeding skin that may prevent them from undertaking normal day-to-day personal and work activities,” said the guide.
“It also makes them more susceptible to pick up infections in the open areas of skin as the protective function of the skin is broken,” warned the document.
Nurses and others may be forced to take time off work to allow cracked or open skin to heal, or may be unable to do their normal duties, because they cannot wash or sanitise their hands.
“This has an impact on clinical care, because staff will be unable to work with patients or in other clinical areas. It also reduces staffing levels in the workplace,” said the document.
“For some individuals, dermatitis can be a painful condition with cracked, bleeding skin”
The guidance details when gloves should and should not be worn in clinical settings, how to choose the right type of gloves for various tasks, and the relevant quality standards around the purchasing and availability of gloves.
It also sets out the role of glove use and hand hygiene in managing and preventing the spread of infections.
Meanwhile. the document says ensuring gloves are only used when needed can help the NHS save money. According to data from the NHS Business Services Authority, more than 1.5 billion boxes of examination gloves purchased annually at a cost of £35m.
“Creating a culture of appropriate glove use creates additional opportunities to avoid unnecessary financial costs through unwarranted use and preventable risks to patients,” said the document.
However, it also stressed that nurses should not skimp on quality to keep costs down. “Decisions taken to buy gloves should exclude any cost pressures that could lead to cheap and inappropriate gloves being bought,” stated the document.
Rose Gallagher, professional lead for infection prevention and control at the RCN, urged all nurses to read it.
“Wearing gloves is an essential part of clinical practice but their inappropriate use can cause contact dermatitis, which leaves nursing staff unable to perform hand hygiene,” she said.
“This can lead to the relocation of nursing staff to non-clinical duties, placing pressure on already under staffed areas,” noted Ms Gallagher.
“Glove use is a vital part of hand hygiene strategies. However, a contaminated or dirty glove is as bad as dirty hands,” she said.
She added: “We need all healthcare staff to think about glove use and to only wear them when required.”
The production and distribution of the RCN guidance has been supported by hand hygiene company DebMed, which provides products like hand soaps and santisers to the healthcare sector.