OH nurses to carry out pre-employment checks
Occupational health nurses will be required to carry out pre-employment
health checks on all new NHS healthcare staff to check for communicable
diseases, under measures announced by the Department of Health.
All NHS staff whose jobs involve exposure-prone procedures (EPPs) – where
there is a risk that injury to the worker could expose a patient to their blood
– will have to test negative for HIV and hepatitis B and C before taking up
Under current guidelines, OH departments only need to carry out such checks
within two weeks of staff starting work, which can often result in employees
slipping through the net. Some trusts check as few as 30 per cent of their
The move has led to fears that some OH units may see a sharp increase in
workload due to the change.
For the first time, all other healthcare workers, even those not involved in
EPPs, will also have to be offered testing for hepatitis C and HIV. All new NHS
workers should already be tested for hepatitis B and tuberculosis, the DoH
The Government’s focus on this issue has been heightened by the fact that
increasing numbers of NHS staff are being drafted in from overseas, sometimes
from areas where such diseases are commonplace.
Pat Troop, deputy chief medical officer, said the UK already had ‘rigorous’
measures in place to ensure patients were not put at risk of serious infection
from healthcare staff, and the new measures would strengthen these further
"The measures will help healthcare workers by giving them access to
tests for these serious infections when they apply to the NHS, and immunisation
or treatment if needed," she said.
Pam Dukes, OH service manager for Camden and Islington Hospitals NHS Trust,
said for some hospitals, the new measures would simply mean a formalisation of
At Camden and Islington, new staff are only allowed to sign on with
personnel once they obtain a form confirming they have been checked by the OH
department. But other OH departments might be caught out.
She said the checks were designed as much to protect healthcare workers as
"The only way we can protect them is if we know how vulnerable they
are," she said.