Nurses biggest fear is needlestick injuries

Nearly half of NHS nurses live in fear of contracting HIV or hepatitis at work because of injuries from needles or other sharp instruments, with one in five worrying about it every day, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

The RCN also warned that, once nurses are injured they face a postcode lottery when it comes to getting support from HR and other professionals, with some hospitals operating very good procedures and others less so.

The Suffering in Silence survey found that 41% of more than 500 hospital and primary care nurses polled said contracting HIV or hepatitis was their greatest workplace fear.

HR needed to be take the lead in putting in place risk assessment, management and control procedures to tackle the problem, said Sheelagh Brewer, RCN senior employment relations advisor.

These policies needed to look at how needles were used and disposed of, whether alternatives could be used, whether there were accident hot-spots such as A&E departments, and protocols for when a nurse reported an injury, she added.

“HR needs to make sure there is appropriate follow-up and support. Levels of support at the moment are very mixed,” she said.

An estimated 100,000 health workers suffer needlestick injuries in the UK each year, with at least five cases leading to a worker contracting HIV as a result. Four have subsequently died, the report, Suffering in Silence, reveals.

In April, NHS Employers, the body launched last November with responsibility for employer issues in the health service, updated in guidance for occupational health nurses on needlestick injuries. 

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