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

on even when they knew the patient had a BBV.

"Needlestick injuries are very common in the UK National Health Service and account for 17 per cent of accidents" says Dr Burrows. "The annual incidence is estimated to be as high as 623 per 10,000 staff, but poor reporting could mean that it is even higher.

"Guidance issued by the Department of Health suggests that employers have a responsibility to assess and manage the risks associated with needlestick injuries and protocols are generally managed by occupation health departments. This includes screening for BBVs such as HIV and hepatitis.

"If the patient is conscious, they can be asked questions about their medical history and for permission for blood tests to be carried out. But if the patient is unconscious, they cannot give consent. If staff test a patient's blood without their consent, and this test is solely for the benefit of the healthcare worker who has had the needlestick injury, then it could be argued that this is unlawful under the Human Tissue Act 2004 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005."

This means that UK hospitals - and the healthcare professionals who work for them face the dilemma of how to protect staff after a needlestick injury, while at the same time protecting patients' rights.

The authors state that three possible arguments have been put forward for performing a BBV test on an unconscious patient after a needlestick injury.

  1. It is likely to be in the patient's best interest to establish a diagnosis of HIV infection as this enables treatment to commence as soon as possible. Testing a patient who lacks the capacity to consent is therefore lawful.

  2. The patient would be likely to provide consent, if asked, to avoid the healthcare worker having to suffer the side effects of unnecessary medication or the anxiety of not knowing the patient's BBV status. The problem with this argument is that it cannot be assumed that
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Contact: Annette Whibley
wizard.media@virgin.net
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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