According to the RCN's Needlestick injury in 2008 survey, nearly one-half of respondents had been stuck by a needle or sharp at some point in their career and 10% had sustained an injury in the past year.
However, 28% of nurses said they had never received advice from their employer about what to do after being injured (see Fig 1) and only 15% of respondents said they were offered prophylactic treatment after having been stuck or cut.
The survey of 4,700 nurses also revealed a stark contrast between settings. Some 17% of hospital-based nurses said they had not received advice after an injury compared with 42% working in the community.
The survey also showed that, although the vast majority of employers had a sharps policy - 94% - only one-half of respondents had received training in their organisation on safe needle use.
Overall, the survey reveals falling confidence among nurses in their employers' level of support after a sharps incident. Just under 70% felt their employer offered them adequate support compared with 78% in 2005 - the last time the college carried out a major survey on needlesticks.
In addition, while nearly all respondents - 99% - said they considered the availability of safer needle devices, such as safety lock syringes or shielded needles, as necessary (see Fig 2), only half said they had access to any of these devices.
Kim Sunley, senior employment relations adviser at the RCN, described the prevalence of needlestick injuries as 'shocking'.
'Half of nurses fear being injured and the psychological impact of an injury when it does happen, even if it does not develop into something life threatening, is underestimated,' she added.
Ms Sunley also said she was 'disappointed' that there were still deficiencies in the support employers offered to nursing staff who had been injured.
'We are particularly concerned about staff working in the community and outside the NHS,' she said.