Study to prevent hand dermatitis could save NHS £125 million

Friday 11 October 2013


A grant of £1.4 million has been awarded to prevent hand dermatitis in nurses and potentially save the NHS £125 million a year. 

The grant, awarded to a team led by Guy’s and St Thomas’, from the National Institute for Health Research funds a year-long study aiming to change nurses' behaviour in looking after their hands. If it is found to be beneficial and cost effective it will be rolled out nationally.

Dr Ira Madan, an occupational health consultant, who is running the study alongside colleagues from across the country, says: “Our study will provide nurses with advice about the use of hand creams combined with online prompts throughout the day to use moisturisers.

“Hand dermatitis is a huge problem in the NHS and is extremely common among nurses due to the amount of hand washing they have to do during a shift.

“This problem won’t go away because hand hygiene measures will of course continue to be rigorously enforced in NHS trusts.  

“Our research will show whether using an online programme that regularly prompts nurses to use a practical intervention like hand cream is beneficial, cost effective, and deliverable throughout the NHS.”

Hand dermatitis is a common cause of discomfort and important loss of productivity to the NHS workforce. It can be so severe that it stops nurses being able to do everyday tasks both in and out of work.

A staff nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’, has had such severe hand dermatitis that she has had time off work. At one point she even had to wear gloves at home day and night.

She says: “My hand dermatitis got so bad I thought that if it got any worse I would have to question my career in nursing. I never realised how debilitating the condition could be, and I don’t think others do until they are affected. It’s impossible to attempt a shift when your hands are cracked and bleeding.”

Dr Madan added: “We are testing the new method on nurses who are at high risk of developing hand dermatitis, either because they have a history of allergies or because their nursing role involves frequent hand washing.

“The study will assess how often nurses develop hand dermatitis and hand infections, and how different groups of nurses look after their hands.

“An economic analysis will assess whether the benefits of the intervention outweigh its costs. Given the current economic climate, it is vital that any new intervention implemented by the NHS is both clinically and cost effective.”

The NIHR has estimated that the cost of treating occupational hand dermatitis could be as much as £125 million per year.

A feasibility study is taking place in Wales from January – August 2014. The full study will run in 26 NHS trusts in England from September 2014.

Last updated: October 2013

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