Health: Needlestick Injuries — Question
2:45 pm

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Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they propose to take in order to implement the provisions of European Council Directive 2010/32/EU, which is designed to prevent sharp (so-called needlestick) injuries, prior to the implementation date of 11 May 2013.

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government have asked the Health and Safety Executive to prepare regulations to transpose Directive 2010/32/EU, to come into force on 11 May 2013. However, most sharps injuries arise from the failure to comply with existing well established standards. Therefore, the issue is not a gap in the law but in compliance. The HSE will consult on the proposed regulations and seek views on how all healthcare stakeholders can contribute to raising awareness of the required standards.

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Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I have seen the Answers that he sent to my noble friend Lady Masham in response to her Written Questions. Is he aware that a considerable number of healthcare professionals injured by hypodermic needles are failing to report those incidents for fear that they have been infected with HIV or hepatitis B or C, which could have a serious adverse effect on their subsequent employability? Does the draft impact assessment prepared by the HSE deal with how individuals infected in that way can safely continue to practise within the NHS?

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

My Lords, I am not aware of underreporting. The reporting figures are actually rather low. In the past decade, fewer than 10 people have reported getting infected from being hit by a needle or other sharp object. Usually the infection, particularly more recently, is hepatitis B or C.

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Lord McKenzie of Luton (Labour)

My Lords, in March last year the Government set out their plans for reform of the health and safety system in Britain, and these included reductions in inspections. The document they published talked about:

"Areas of concern but where proactive inspection is unlikely to be effective and is not proposed",

which included the health and social care sector. On what basis was that judgment made?

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

The judgment was made on the basis of the number of injuries or incidents. Industries with a higher proportion of these were clearly ones on which one would target scarce resources. As I have just explained, the declared figures for injuries from sharps with infection are that 100,000 people a year cut themselves. However, the real concern is how many are infected, and that number is rather low.

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The Countess of Mar (Crossbench)

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the directive referred to in the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, applies to members of the veterinary profession? At least human patients keep still most of the time. Animals do not, and I know from my own experience what a needlestick injury can produce.

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

This applies to human health and not to other industries such as waste and veterinary.

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Baroness Masham of Ilton (Crossbench)

My Lords, will the Minister consider expanding the directive to include patients living in the community, because there is so much emphasis now on care in the community? It is very difficult to get rid of sharps boxes, and if people have to inject themselves before going on an aeroplane there are no sharps boxes at airports.

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

My Lords, it is important to make health and safety proportionate. This is a very particular problem. People cut themselves regularly. However, the issue is not that you cut yourself but that you infect yourself. The numbers are rather small, and it would be disproportionate to widen this out further than the directive because we already have well established safety procedures that are applicable more generally.

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Lord Patel (Crossbench)

Can the Minister clarify the employment status of people who are HIV carriers? As I understand it, the new regulation allows people who are carriers of HIV to work in the health service, including as surgeons.

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Lord Freud (Conservative)

My Lords, I am outside my personal sphere of expertise on that particular question. I will have to write on that matter.