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NHS HIV staff restrictions 'should be relaxed'

A government consultation will determine whether restrictions on NHS workers with HIV should be relaxed after a review found an “extremely low” risk of the disease being passed to patients.

England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies announced the plan after government advisers said UK rules were “out of step” with available evidence.

They found the risk of a patient being infected with HIV from an infected healthcare worker during the most invasive type of surgery (such as open heart surgery or hysterectomy) was about one in five million.

It was negligible for less invasive procedures, such as having an injection of local anaesthetic during dental treatment.

At present, healthcare workers diagnosed with HIV are not allowed to perform most surgical or dental procedures.

These restrictions will remain in place until the outcome of the decision. Consultations will run in England, Wales and Scotland simultaneously.

The Expert Advisory Group on Aids, the UK Advisory Panel of Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood-borne Viruses and the Advisory Group on Hepatitis have together examined the available evidence.

They found no reported transmissions of HIV from healthcare workers. This is despite almost 10,000 patients having been tested following treatment by infected healthcare workers since 1988.

They also reported that few other countries have such tight restrictions as the UK.

In September, the Department of Health announced gay men will be able to give blood when restrictions are lifted later this year.

A lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have had sex with another man was put in place in the UK in the 1980s as a response to the spread of Aids and HIV.

Dame Sally said: “Patient safety is always our top priority.

“Our knowledge and understanding and the treatment of HIV have all developed enormously over the last 25 years.

“It is right that we now consider our current guidelines to reflect what the science is telling us about the risk of HIV transmission from healthcare workers with HIV to patients.

“There are currently around 110 healthcare workers with HIV in England who might be affected by the current restrictions.

“We need to ensure that the guidelines and restrictions imposed are evidence-based and achieve a fair balance between patient safety and the rights and responsibilities of healthcare workers with HIV.

“This consultation will seek wide views on the expert advice on whether it should be accepted.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • According to a report by researchers Norman Hearst and Stephen Hulley in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the odds of a heterosexual becoming infected with AIDS after one episode of penile-vaginal intercourse with someone in a non-high-risk group without a condom are one in 5 million - the same risk as mentioned above. Does this mean we don't need to be using condoms anymore?

    I appreciate the need to take a more objective view of the likelihood of cross infection, but accidents will always happen and in my opinion it will take an incredibly brave person to sign off on accepting this (avoidable) risk.

    For the record I have absolutely no prejudices against any members of communities and groups who take part in activities with a perceived high risk of contracting and HIV infection, I just don't believe that patients receiving potentially life saving treatment should be exposed to similar risks - probably without their consent..

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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