NHS trusts fail to implement safer sharps despite new EU regulations

Published: 25-Feb-2014

Worrying research shows 33% of NHS organisations have not implemented new laws to protect from needlestick injury

Worrying research has revealed that a third of NHS trusts have not properly implemented safer sharps initiatives to protect healthcare workers and patients from the dangers of needlestick injuries.

Data from MindMetre reveals 33% of trusts do not instruct staff to use safety devices ‘wherever possible’ in their sharps policies, despite this being an explicit requirement of the new EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU and the UK’s own Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013, new legislation aimed at reducing needlestick incidents within the sector.

The majority of trusts are vigorously working towards compliance with the EU Directive on the prevention of sharps injuries, the research shows, with five in every six organisations having reviewed sharps policies, and two thirds instructing staff to use safety devices ‘wherever possible’ in order to protect clinical, care and ancillary staff from injury and possible infection.

But some trusts are being left behind.

Under the new rules, employers and contractors working in the healthcare sector will be required to:

  • Have effective arrangements for the safe use and disposal (including using ‘safer sharps’ where reasonably practicable, restricting the practice of recapping of needles, and placing sharps bins close to the point of use)
  • Provide the necessary information and training to workers
  • Investigate and take action in response to work-related sharps injuries
  • The directive specifically refers to the focal role played by safety-engineered medical devices such as spring-loaded retractable needles, needletip guards, puncture-resistant sharps containers, needle destructors, blunt sutures, and needle-free access valves for intravenous sets. These have been proven to reduce the rate of needlestick injuries in healthcare workers to nearly zero in some studies. And, while adoption means an initial financial outlay greater than that of the traditional devices, research shows that it reduces the huge costs associated with a needlestick injury and boosts staff morale.

    Key findings from the MindMetre research report show that:
    • 84% of trusts have revised and published their sharps policy in the light of the EU Directive, of whom 17% revised their sharps policy post-directive and pre UK statutory instrument
    • 59% of trusts instruct staff to use safety devices ‘wherever possible’ in their sharps policy. However 33% of trusts do not make this instruction in their sharps policy and 29% mandate the use of safety devices in particular categories, particularly cannulation and phlebotomy
    • Of those trusts able to make an accurate estimate, safety device usage (measured in volume of procedures) has risen from 23% in 2009, to 67% by the end of 2013

    Paul Lindsell, managing director of MindMetre Research, said: “Evidently, the larger proportion of NHS trusts are taking compliance with EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU and Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 very seriously. With almost a fifth of trusts having revised their sharps policies in advance of the mandatory national regulation date in 2013, and with two thirds instructing staff to use safety sharps products ‘wherever possible’, it is clear that most are demonstrating their concern with clinical, care and ancillary staff safety with tangible action.

    “However, there remains a proportion of trusts that have not revised their sharps policies; moreover, one third of organisations are not encouraging their staff to use safety devices ‘wherever possible’, despite this being an explicit piece of guidance in the relevant regulation.”

    But he added: “We expect further progress to be made across 2014, both by pioneering trusts in this regard, and also from those that have made slower progress.

    “An estimated one million sharps injuries occur in the European Union each year. The risk of injury and possible infection from bloodborne pathogens including Hepatitis and HIV for the dedicated people working in our health service is clearly unacceptable and now has the force of EU law and local regulation behind it.”

    The research warns trusts of the dangers of non compliance. It states: “The study’s findings on this issue must be viewed with an important caveat:- only 53% of trusts were monitoring their use of safety devices to a sufficiently rigorous extent to feel confident in making a reasonably accurate estimate. Should this situation remain the same after a reasonable implementation window has been granted (say 12-18 months), then it may become an issue of regulatory scrutiny.”


    Click here for the MindMetre report

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