Trusts 'ignoring' legislation aimed at avoiding needlestick injuries

MindMetre research reveals non-compliance with 2013 directive calling for widespread use of safety devices

Safety devices like the safePICO70 arterial blood gas syringes from Radiometer are helping hospitals to reduce needlestick injuries among staff

NHS trusts are failing to comply with ‘safer sharps’ rules and, as a result, are putting NHS employees at risk of needlestick injuries and blood-borne infections such as hepatitis and HIV, a new report reveals.

It is to be hoped that these notices will focus the minds of non-compliant healthcare organisations and inspire a rapid upswing in the use of safety devices

Legislation on needle safety mechanisms passed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2013 - Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations - called for health organisations to incorporate safety devices ‘wherever possible’, and to work towards total compliance.

But a survey by MindMetre Research, which monitored the procurement of safety devices within health organisations since the legislation came into place, has highlighted three high-volume procedures - cannulation, blood collection and injection - where healthcare workers are at risk as a result of non-compliance.

And, with a recent CQC report revealing that 61% of NHS hospitals ‘require improvement’ in patient safety, this report reveals the risks that healthcare workers face in delivering services to patients.

MindMetre collected data through a series of Freedom of Information requests conducted in June 2014 and throughout 2015. The results reveal that, although progress has been made, the proportion of safer sharp devices is still nowhere near what would be reasonably expected in order to be fully compliant.

These levels of compliance are clearly unacceptable. The original EU Directive, enacted through the HSE regulation, explicitly expects healthcare and care institutions to use safety devices in the vast majority of cases, and here we have clear evidence that this is not yet happening

The category of cannulation showed the greatest compliance levels with sharps regulations, with 79% of devices purchased in 2015.

Blood collection proved the next-most-compliant category, with 68% of devices purchased incorporating a safety mechanism in 2015. However, this is surprisingly low given that this is considered a high-risk procedure involving significant volumes of blood.

Compliance was lowest in the injection category. Here, only 44% of devices purchased in 2015 incorporated a safety device, despite the fact that the most-common device to be involved in needlestick injuries is the syringe and needle. Bearing in mind that minute quantities of blood can transmit potentially fatal infections, this is very concerning.

Commenting on the findings, Paul Lindsell, MindMetre managing director, said: “These levels of compliance are clearly unacceptable. The original EU Directive, enacted through the HSE regulation, explicitly expects healthcare and care institutions to use safety devices in the vast majority of cases, and here we have clear evidence that this is not yet happening.

Failure to comply is quite simply an abnegation of the basic duty to look after staff safety at all levels

“No wonder that the Health and Safety Executive is issuing improvement notices with increasing frequency to non-compliant organisations – so far, mainly to trusts and care homes – telling them to radically change their practices and use safety devices ‘wherever practicable’. It is to be hoped that these notices will focus the minds of non-compliant healthcare organisations and inspire a rapid upswing in the use of safety devices. We shall certainly be tracking further progress in the latter part of this year.

“Sharps injuries and resulting infections can not only cause immense personal distress, but can also ruin careers. That applies to everyone in the healthcare setting, from ancillary workers through to care professionals and top clinicians. Failure to comply is quite simply an abnegation of the basic duty to look after staff safety at all levels.”

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