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Facilities for chemical decontamination in accident and emergency departments in the United Kingdom


Objective: To audit the facilities for chemical decontamination, with special reference to cyanide poisoning, in all major accident and emergency departments in the UK.

Method: A simple postal questionnaire was used to audit planning, premises, equipment, protection for staff, and stocks of specific antidotes to cyanide poisoning.

Results: 227 questionnaires from 261 departments (87%) were returned and used in the survey. Of the 227 departments who responded, 151 (66%) had a written plan; 168 (74%) departments had premises for decontamination; 55 (24%) were judged to have satisfactory premises; 146 (64%) departments had a shower or hose for decontamination; 60 (26%) departments had a decontamination trolley suitable for “stretcher” patients; 203 (89%) had some protective equipment for staff but only 77 (34%) had complete protection—that is, goggles, chemical resistant clothing, and breathing apparatus. In the authors’ opinion only seven (3%) departments had satisfactory premises and equipment to treat “stretcher” patients and full protection for staff. A further 11 (5%) departments were equipped to manage ambulant patients at a similar level. Some 205 (90%) departments stocked one or more antidotes to cyanide and 77 (34%) stocked all four antidotes. Thirty four (15%) departments held all four antidotes to cyanide and had full protection for staff. Only five (2%) departments had satisfactory premises and equipment to treat “stretcher” patients, full protection for staff, and at least three of four antidotes.

Conclusions: Most departments had some equipment for chemical decontamination. However, there were major inconsistencies in the range of equipment held and these limited its usefulness. Only a small minority of departments was satisfactorily equipped to deal with a serious chemical incident.

  • chemical decontamination

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