NHS supplier faces court

Court give trust go-ahead to name NHS Supplies Authority as co-defendant in
latex gloves court case

The NHS Supplies Authority is likely to be sued in a chain of damages claims
initiated by a nurse who says she can no longer work because of latex glove
allergy.

In one of about 50 claims currently in motion, the courts have for the first
time given leave for an NHS trust to name the authority as a co-defendant.
Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust has until the end of the month to take up the
opportunity.

"This is very significant," said Graham Johnson, professional
development manager for MTL Medical Services and an expert witness in a number
of latex glove cases. "It will be the first time the authority has been
brought into the courtroom.

"Currently a hospital can ask the NHSSA to send gloves that are known
to be inherently dangerous. The NHSSA argues that since there is a market for
these gloves it must offer them. But the same could be said for Semtex. The
authority owes a duty of care to the trusts it supplies."

Karen Heyhoe, the registered general nurse bringing the case against Essex
Rivers, said, ‘The Supplies Authority has a huge case to answer. The health
authority does rely on it for the best deal and cost-effectiveness. If it is
going to supply these gloves it should be doing research as well into their
safety."

The NHSSA catalogue continues to offer powdered latex examination and
surgical gloves despite warnings from the Medical Devices Agency about the
potential risks of allergens released by both the powder and the latex proteins
used in some gloves’ manufacture. About 80 per cent of trusts no longer use the
gloves.

Last month, in an out-of-court settlement, an unidentified trust paid
£30,000 in compensation and offered re-employment to a healthcare worker it
dismissed in 1997 because of glove-related ill-health.

Daniel Bennett, solicitor with Leigh, Day & Co which is acting for 10
latex allergy sufferers, said most of the trusts in question are either
admitting or declining to challenge liability.

"We are able to demonstrate between 15 and 20 breaches of statutory
duty," Bennett said. "It is clear from the documentary evidence that
health trusts were not and are still not assessing the risks under the Personal
Protective Equipment at Work regulations, nor are they doing risk assessments
required under the COSHH regulations. These failures are making it very easy to
win these cases."

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