30th January 2024, 9.30am to 3pm, at Fórsa, Dublin

A joint Summit on preventing occupational exposure to Hazardous Medicinal Products (HMPs) was held at Fórsa’s office in Dublin on 30th January 2024, hosted by Fórsa, the European Biosafety Network (EBN), the Hospital Pharmacists Association of Ireland (HPAI) and the National Association of Hospital Pharmacy Technicians (NAHPT).

The full report can be accessed here.

The Summit looked at the practical aspects of preventing occupational exposure of healthcare workers and professionals to HMPs. Exposure to HMPs, often used to treat cancer and other life-threatening conditions, can happen anywhere from manufacture to preparation, administration and disposal, and can cause health impacts from headaches and hair loss to miscarriages, reproductive problems and different types of cancer.

The event was attended by a wide range of representatives, professionals and members of the Irish healthcare and social care community, frontline staff, government agencies and regulators, trades unions, policy makers and academics. Attendees had the chance to hear presentations from Darren Arkins of the Health and Safety Authority, Dr Tony Musu of the European Trade Union Institute, Dr Paul Sessink, EU expert on HMPs, and Ian Lindsley, Secretary of the European Biosafety Network. Lively and engaged discussions took place throughout the day between panellists, including hospital pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, oncology nurses and occupational health specialists and the audience from across the Irish healthcare and social care sector.

Calls to action

Fórsa, the EBN, HPAI and NAHPT called upon the Health Service Executive (HSE) to urgently update their ‘Guideline on the Safe Handling of Cytotoxic Drugs’, which was last published in February 2022, to include updates made to the new EU Directive and new EU guidance on handling HMPs. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) must also play a role by increasing inspections of healthcare and manufacturing sites which handle and produce HMPs. Following the Summit, Fórsa will also write, in coordination with other Irish healthcare trade unions, to the HSE to request immediate and nationwide adoption of the ETUI’s list of HMPs in Ireland to protect healthcare and social care workers.

Linda Kelly, National Secretary of Fórsa said: “With the issue of exposure to hazardous medicinal products (HMPs) directly and indirectly impacting so many of our members, it is imperative that awareness by employers and workers of the risks is improved and we act now to prevent the damaging health effects that exposure to HMPs can have on the workforce. We are calling for preventive measures to be put in place to protect all workers potentially exposed to contamination. We must work holistically to ensure that all workers in health and social care are sufficiently protected when doing their jobs.

“The new EU Directive that includes HMPs for the first time must be transposed into Irish law by 5 April 2024. But the real work does not stop with changes to legislation or the implementation of new EU guidance; employers in Irish health and social care need to understand the risks of exposure to HMPs, implement controls and take immediate action to protect workers.”

Ian Lindsley, Secretary, European Biosafety Network said: “The European Biosafety Network conducted a survey to determine the level of awareness and protection of workers in Ireland of the risk of exposure to HMPs and what safe handling measures were in place to prevent exposure. Worryingly the results presented at the Summit show a lack of awareness about the issue and low levels of risk assessments undertaken, coupled with insufficient training and a lack of preventive measures and surveillance of contamination. 

“New EU legislation and guidance must be disseminated and implemented in Ireland now to protect healthcare workers from potentially devastating health impacts due to exposure at work. Further progress needs to be made. And fast.”

Presentations

Tony Musu

Paul Sessink (1)

Ian Lindsley

Paul Sessink (2)