Health care professionals in Saskatoon Health Region will still be snapping on gloves, but as of this week, those gloves won’t be made of latex.

The Region is removing all latex gloves from hospitals, care homes, clinics and other Region-operated facilities this week. Instead, latex-free options will be offered.

Latex-free gloves

Latex-free glove options will be offered across Saskatoon Health Region.

The reason behind this decision – and Saskatoon is the only health region in the province to make it so far – is to ensure staff and patient safety.

“Everyone is on board with this move – physicians, surgeons, Occupational Health and Safety, and senior leadership,” reported Kara Côté, Manager Clinical Equipment and Product Standardization with Supply Chain Management. “The doctors and surgeons deserve a huge kudos for, supporting this endeavor even though latex gloves are what they like and are used to. But this whole initiative is done for the safety of patients and families, and that’s a priority for our physicians.”

While latex is a great material, Côté said, latex particles can become airborne and can cause allergic reactions in staff and patients. Repeated exposure to latex increases the chance of someone becoming allergic over time, as well, which is what has happened with some Region staff and patients. It is estimated that up to 3,000 people in Saskatoon Health Region may have a latex allergy.

The severity of a latex allergy can vary from person to person. But it can result in anaphylaxis and death in severe cases.

Allergies to latex are becoming more and more common, with more patients asking for latex-free procedures and treatments. At the same time, Côté noted, more and more companies are offering latex alternatives in their product lines, which makes moving away from latex easier.

After latex gloves have been removed from facilities, the committee responsible will turn their attention to replacing latex foley catheters with those made from another material. Gradually, they will be looking for options to replace a lot of latex tubing, Côté added.

“We are trying as best as we can to be latex safe,” she said, “so that our patients and staff feel safe.”

It is doubtful that the Region could ever declare itself to be latex-free – it’s just found in too many products.

That’s why a committee made up of representatives from many departments is looking at literature and best practice towards a latex-safe environment. Their mandate includes getting rid of latex where they can, and developing policies so that patients with latex allergies are identified on admission and are cared for in a latex safe environment.

Suzanne Sheppard is heading that committee, formed over a year ago. And they’ve learned a lot about latex allergies in that time.

“Unfortunately, as latex can become airborne, that makes it hugely different from other allergies patients identify, such as an allergy to penicillin,” said Sheppard. “Penicillin is something that is actively given to a patient, so ensuring an allergic patient isn’t exposed to it is simple. However, keeping a patient clear of exposure to latex particulates is far more difficult, not only because they are airborne, but because of the number of products latex is found in.”

Latex is used in gloves, catheters, ECG electrodes, drains and tubes, and even wheelchair tires.

“It’s everywhere,” Sheppard said. “We are really working hard to develop a general policy which facilities and departments can use when they develop guidelines to keep people safe.”