Experts warn over needlestick risk

The new EU Directive on needlestick safety that aims to crack down on the one million needlestick injuries each year in Europe may protect dentists from more than a simple scratch.

The new UK legislation requires healthcare professionals to assess the risk of needlestick injuries and control it – but many are cyncial about the risks.

Unless practititoners can be certain patients are not infected with a blood-borne virus, sustaining a needlestick injury can be a risk and having effective protocols in place to enable staff to act quickly is essential.

The threat of infection from viruses such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV may not be at the forefront of many practitioners' minds but it’s important to be aware of the facts, say experts at Dentists' Provident.

In 2012, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) revealed that the number of people living in the UK with HIV actually increased by an estimated 4,500 (from 91,500 to 95,000) from the previous year and that 24% of the total were unaware of their infection¹.

David Jones, head of claims and underwriting at Dentists’ Provident, is currently overseeing at least half a dozen income protection claims where members have contracted HIV.

He said: 'The risk of contracting HIV from a needlestick is only estimated to be 0.01% but it’s not worth taking the risk of being in that statistic. We’ve had a number of dentists tell our team that they’ve recently had a needlestick injury but haven’t followed the protocols, which include having a blood test.

'It’s vital to visit a clinic as soon as possible after the injury, so that the risk of transmission can be independently assessed, and antiretrovirals administered straightaway, if required. Remember there is always a degree of risk if the patient is not sure of their blood status.'

The guidelines specifically refer to the fact that there are a range of syringes and needles available with a shield or cover that slides or pivots to cover the needle after use. Septodont's Ultra Safety Plus is one such device that has been clinically researched and proven to reduce needlestick injuries from an average of 11.8 to zero per one million hours worked³.

Besides the risk to your health, contracting HIV can have a major and immediate impact on your career, as you will be unable to practise dentistry in the UK. Extensive Government lobbying including a comparison with other countries, led by Dental Protection, could soon bring about a relaxation of the regulations to allow HIV positive dentists to practise, under certain conditions. The Department of Health is expected to review this restriction by this summer. Without protecting your income the financial impact could be devastating.

David added: 'We have members who are currently unable to do clinical work because of their HIV infection, and have had to find alternative employment both inside and outside the dental industry. We are supporting these members with proportionate payments of sickness benefits, due to the lower income they are now receiving, as they are unable to work as a dentist.'

Bringing your practice up to date to comply with the new HSE regulations may mean making some changes to both your equipment and your methods. If it also means avoiding that seemingly inconsequential ‘scratch’ and safeguards your health and your career, it’s surely a price worth paying?


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