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Hospitals face legal dilemma if they test incapacitated patients after needle accidents
Date:8/31/2010

Anaesthetists are calling for greater clarity on the legal implications of testing incapacitated patients for blood-borne viruses, after a survey found that this is often done following staff needlestick injuries, in possible breach of UK legislation.

The paper, in the September issue of Anaesthesia, reports on the results of an anonymous survey of intensive care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is accompanied by an editorial by Dr Andrew Hartle, chair of the multi-disciplinary working party set up by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) to explore the legal dilemma facing healthcare professionals who carry out such tests.

UK researchers sent the survey to 225 intensive care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 99 responded.

"Our survey showed that 63 per cent of the units who responded had recorded an incident where a member of staff had suffered a needlestick injury while caring for an incapacitated patient in the last 12 months" says the paper's lead author Dr Lorna Burrows.

Analysis of the results showed that:

  • In just over 90 per cent of cases (56 patients) staff did not know whether the incapacitated patient had a blood borne virus (BBV). Staff were already aware of the full BBV positive status of the remaining ten per cent.
  • 36 patients were tested at the time of the injury and ten were found to have a BBV. In six cases this represented the first diagnosis of a BBV. In the other four cases staff knew the patient had at least one BBV, but felt the need to test for others.
  • 22 patients were told they had been tested when they regained consciousness (61 per cent). Three were not told, one patient died before they could be spoken to and it is not known what happened in the other 10 cases.
  • Less than a third of the healthcare workers took post-exposure medication following their injury and less than half took this acti
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Contact: Annette Whibley
wizard.media@virgin.net
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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