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Fears have been aired that the hand health of nurses on the coronavirus frontline is being overlooked, posing risks to not only staff themselves but also the delivery of key patient services.
While nurses are regularly reminded of the importance of handwashing in reducing the spread of Covid-19, many are not being supported to protect their skin, the Royal College of Nursing warned.
“Many are not being given the advice they need or the time to protect themselves”
Frequent handwashing can lead to and exacerbate dry skin issues including contact dermatitis.
If these problems occur, nurses will not only personally suffer but they may also have to be moved out of clinical areas due to the risk of infection, potentially leaving services understaffed.
The college has today released a new set of resources designed to guide nurses on the best way to look after their hands.
This includes advice on maintaining skin health when wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and the appropriate use of examination gloves.
The guidance also urges nurses to raise concerns if their employer is not meeting their legal duty to carry out regular skin checks of staff exposed to the risk of work-related dermatitis.
Rose Gallagher, RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control, said “many” nurses were not being supported to protect their hand health.
“While the current Covid-19 crisis has thrown a light on the importance of protective equipment for nursing staff, to keep them and their patients safe we still need to try to remember the basics of skin health,” said Ms Gallagher.
“Nurses know only too well that if their hands become damaged it can have long-term consequences on their health as well as their career.
“Despite this, many are not being given the advice they need or the time to protect themselves.”
She added: “In the current circumstances we are all being extra vigilant about hygiene.
“Failing to look after our hands may mean we can’t look after our patients – and ultimately risks long-term, or even lifelong, damage to our skin.”
A survey carried out by the RCN in December 2019 – before the coronavirus outbreak in the UK – found 93% of nursing staff had experienced some form of skin condition, including cracking, scaling and pain, in the previous 12 months.
Nearly half of all respondents (47%) who had symptoms of skin issues said they had problems more than once in the 12 months before the survey.
More than three quarters (78%) of those with skin problems did not report them to anyone in the workplace when symptoms developed.
More than half of those responding to the survey (58%) said they had not had any training on how to protect their hands at work.