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New European Union guidelines to protect health workers from sharps injuries have been announced.
The guidelines form part of a framework agreement signed by the European Federation of Public Services Union (EPSU) and HOSPEEM — the European hospital and health-care employers’ association.
The agreement, which was negotiated with the involvement of Karen Jennings, head of health at trade union Unison, aims to prevent the incidence of injuries from contaminated sharps, and establish appropriate response and follow-up policies in cases where injuries occur.
Said Jennings: “Sadly, health workers have died as a result of accidents involving needles. Such injuries cause enormous distress and lead to potentially life-threatening diseases, such as hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. The cost of providing safer needles is minimal, especially when you add together the cost of treating someone with a needlestick injury — tests, post-exposure treatment, time off, and compensation — and all this is nothing compared to the human misery caused by this type of injury.”
She urged the Department of Health not to wait for the agreement to become law but to force the NHS to start using safer needles and adopt the new guidelines immediately.
The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the agreement. Its chief executive and general secretary, Dr Peter Carter, said: “With needlestick injuries affecting nearly half of all nurses in the UK, we are delighted that an agreement between EU employers and trade unions has now been reached to provide nurses with better protection.”
He added: “It is simple — needle policies, appropriate training and investment in safer alternatives to traditional needles can stop these accidents happening in the first place. Nurses should also receive full support from their employers when they sustain an injury to prevent the feelings of isolation and anxiety that often accompany such trauma.”