Staff in scrubs around patient

Tackling invisible risk for health staff

New research at Salford Royal has tackled an invisible risk to healthcare staff working in recovery units for patients after surgery.

Patients breathe out waste anaesthetic gas in the recovery room and it can be inhaled by the nurses looking after them. Short-term effects can include drowsiness and headaches and some studies have identified potentially serious long-term health issues.

Operating theatres and anaesthetic rooms are fitted with high-tech scavenger systems to collect the waste gas but recovery units don’t normally have these.

Medical student Richard Tallent worked with Anaesthetics  Consultants James Corcoran and Joe Sebastian to test whether using a special mask for patients  reduced the level of exhaled anaesthetic gases better than a standard oxygen mask.

They compared concentrations of two anaesthetic gases –sevoflurane and desflurane – close to the patients’ mouths and just less than a metre away, the typical distance away where a nurse would work.

Richard said: “We checked on levels as soon as patients arrived in the recovery room and at 10 minutes and 20 minutes after arrival. Our results suggest that the specialist mask is effective at reducing healthcare staff’s exposure to these anaesthetic gases, with average levels in the patient breathing zone and nurse work zone 90 per and 78 per cent lower than with a standard oxygen mask at the 20 minute mark. It’s significant that the mask reduced the level of the gases below maximum exposure limits for around 85 per cent of the patient in our study within 20 seconds of it being fitted. We’d encourage hospitals to use this mask to help protect staff.”

Dr Sebastian said: “This research has now been published in a leading medical journal, which is a significant and impressive achievement for a medical student.  It would be great to see more students getting involved in research early in their medical careers.”

The study, which compared data from 120 patients, has been published in the journal Anaesthesia: Evaluation of a novel waste anaesthetic gas scavenger device for use during recovery from anaesthesia.