Nurse who developed a life-threatening allergy to latex awarded £350,000 compensation

Cardiff County Court has today awarded a guaranteed £350,000 compensation, with the possibility of further interest, to UNISON member Alison Dugmore (37), who developed a life-threatening allergy to latex while working at two hospitals in Swansea. Alison was forced to give up nursing in December 1997 after she suffered a series of anaphylactic attacks as a result of using latex gloves coated with corn powder. She developed skin irritation and respiratory problems from the exposure and to this day has to carry an “epi-pen” with her in case she unwittingly comes into contact with latex.

UNISON, the UK’s biggest union, took Alison Dugmore’s case to the High Court in London in November 2002. The court found in Alison’s favour and, in a groundbreaking legal decision, held employers strictly liable to ensure that employees are protected from harmful substances such as latex. This means employers are no longer able to argue that they didn’t know a substance was harmful.

Speaking after her near 8 year fight for justice, Alison Dugmore said:

“I am just glad it’s all over. I am pleased to get some compensation at last but I would give it all back if I could have my health back instead. I put a lot of effort into getting my qualifications and nursing was a job I loved and I have lost it all.

“I could never have got through it all without UNISON, who have supported me over all these years. And if this case makes employers sit up and take notice of the potential danger of powdered latex gloves I will be very pleased. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I am living with every day. I cannot lead a normal life and this has taken a toll on the whole family.”

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON said:

“I am very pleased that UNISON has been able to secure this compensation for Alison. Her life has been turned upside down by this terrible allergy and the NHS has lost a dedicated nurse. UNISON is calling for a ban on all high protein powdered gloves because they put not only the wearer at risk but patients as well.

“By winning this case UNISON has established an important legal precedent - that employers have a strict liability to ensure that they protect their workforce from harmful substances such as latex. This has consequences not only for the NHS but for industry as a whole, because employers will no longer be able to argue that they did not know that a substance was harmful.”

The danger of using these powdered latex gloves is well known and we want to see an end to their use in the workplace. We know that around 100 people a year develop occupational asthma due to latex, and the cost to the NHS of treating latex sensitive individuals can be more than £10,000 a year, not to mention the pain and suffering caused to the individual.

Alison Dugmore first reported that she was having problems with latex gloves as long ago as 1993 when she was working at the Singleton Hospital in Swansea. Over time her reaction got worse and she suffered her first anaphylactic shock in 1996. At the beginning of 1997 she transferred to Morriston hospital NHS Trust and although she switched to using vinyl gloves, she continued to be exposed to latex from other sources. Following another attack in December 1997 she was forced to leave work and has not been able to return.

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