Objectives - To evaluate the capability of accident and emergency (A and E) departments in six health regions of England to safely decontaminate casualties exposed to hazardous chemicals. Methods - In January 1999 a postal questionnaire was sent to the clinical director of all A and E departments in Trent, North and South Thames, South and West, North West and, Anglia and Oxford Health Regions. The questionnaire inquired about characteristics of the department, decontamination facilities and equipment, and staff training. Non-responders were sent a second questionnaire and contacted by telephone if they failed to respond to the second mailing. Results - 308 of 326 departments identified (94%) returned a questionnaire. There was no significant difference in response rate by region (p = 0.99). Analysis was restricted to 154 major departments, seeing more than 20 000 new attendances per year. Of these 154 departments 109 (71%) had a written chemical incident plan but only 55 (36%) maintained a list of nearby industrial chemical sites. Fifty nine departments (38%) stated that members of staff had received training in the management of chemically contaminated casualties in the preceding year. Eighteen departments (12%) possessed the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for decontamination by the Ambulance Services Association. Ninety six departments (62%) had a designated decontamination room but only seven (7%) of them incorporated all the features generally considered necessary for safe decontamination. Forty one units (27%) had the capability to decontaminate casualties outside of the department either with warm water from a shower attachment or with a mobile decontamination unit. Thirty six departments (23%) had neither a decontamination room nor the ability to decontaminate casualties outside the department. Only 16 units (10%) had both adequate PPE and either a decontamination room or the capability to decontaminate outside the department. Conclusions - This study has identified deficiencies in the current NHS capability to respond to chemical incidents. To resolve this, nationally recognised standards for decontamination facilities, equipment and training should be formulated, agreed and implemented.
- Hazardous chemicals