This patient safety information leaflet alerts all NHS organisations to act to better protect patients with latex allergy. Latex is present in gloves and a variety of medical equipment and supplies, which poses a safety risk to patients who are sensitised to latex.
Contact with the residue of chemicals used in the manufacture of latex products can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Allergic reactions from contact with natural rubber latex itself can present symptoms such as urticaria, rhinitis, conjunctivitis or asthma. Occasionally, it can lead to life-threatening respiratory difficulties and anaphylactic shock.
In 2003, the National Reporting and Learning Service (NRLS) and others conducted a survey on the management of latex allergy in all NHS organisations in England and Wales. The results showed that only about 60 per cent had implemented policies for managing or minimising risk.
The NRLS recommends that all primary care organisations should develop a comprehensive working policy, or review their existing policy, on the use and purchasing of latex products. It should include measures to:
- Substitute, control or eliminate latex where possible.
- Provide safe and effective latex-free alternatives.
- Limit latex to its most valuable uses.
- Identify sensitised patients.
- Raise awareness about latex sensitivity.
- Ensure that latex-free alternatives do not replace the risk of reaction to latex with another risk.