Call for better protection of chemotherapy nurses from drug exposure risk

Nursing academics are campaigning for changes to the way chemotherapy is delivered to reduce the risk of healthcare workers suffering side-effects such as fertility problems, hair loss or nausea associated with the treatment.

The Cytotoxic Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy (SACT) Safety Campaign, launched by academics at Birmingham City University and medical equipment manufacturer Vygon (UK), has called for chemotherapy nurses to be provided with equipment that will prevent the escape of cytotoxic drugs when they are being delivered to cancer patients.

Cytotoxic drugs, by virtue of their use in preventing the replication or growth of cancer cells, can pose a risk to the staff administering them to patients. The risk of exposure comes from the inhalation of contaminated air or by skin contact with contaminated surfaces, material and medical equipment.

The campaign seeks to make the use of closed system drugs transfer devices – which prevent the escape of hazardous drugs and protect the health of clinicians – mandatory for all healthcare workers delivering chemotherapy.

According to research published in the British Journal of Nursing by campaign founders Alison Simons and Samantha Toland, almost half of 200 nurses surveyed – who did not use a closed system transfer device – experienced side-effects including headaches, dizziness and nausea when treating cancer patients with cytotoxic drugs.

The research – Perceived effects from handling systemic anti-cancer therapy agents – also discovered that one in 10 healthcare workers had suffered a miscarriage or fertility problems, while 9% said they had experienced hair loss.

Toland said: “Healthcare practitioners in this country work non-stop around the clock to provide treatment to chemotherapy patients.

“We passionately believe that all hospitals and healthcare providers should be using drug transfer devices that minimise the risk of harm to nurses.”

Simons added: “Changing clinical practices and introducing new equipment to prevent these risks may take time and add to costs, but when you think about what is at risk the benefits outweigh the problems.”

One healthcare organisation using the closed system is Healthcare at Home. After a six-week trial of the drug transfer device by its East Midlands team in 2016, it rolled the system out across the organisation. Its cytotoxic policy now states that its use is mandatory.

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