NHS NHS forced to pay out £4m to staff put at risk by dirty needles

By Henry Bodkin

MORE than 1,200 NHS staff have won compensation after being injured by needles potentially infected with HIV or hepatitis over the past six years.

Official figures reveal an “unacceptable” picture of widespread failures to dispose of needles safely, resulting in payouts of at least £4,077,441 since 2012.

Hospitals are under a strict legal obligation to dispose of syringes safely, usually by means of a solid, brightly marked “sharps” bin, which doctors and nurses should ensure are close at hand before administering injections.

However, data from NHS Resolution, the body that handles negligence claims against trusts, shows there were 1,833 claims for so-called needle-stick injuries and psychological distress between 2012 and 2017, with 326 of the cases still open.

Of the 1,212 successful claimants, three quarters were ancillary workers such as porters, cleaners and maintenance staff.

Once accidentally pricked by a used needle, victims face weeks of harrowing uncertainty before finding out if they have contracted a blood-borne disease.

Workers’ representatives said low-paid staff were living in fear of getting a life-changing illness because clinicians do not follow basic guidelines.

The NHS Resolution document said filling sharps bins to dangerous levels, or failing to use them at all, were common reasons for “avoidable” injuries.

The amount paid out in compensation since 2012 could pay for more than 200 junior nurses for a year.

200

The number of junior nurses that could be funded for a year by the compensation sum

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, which represents tens of thousands of hospital support staff, said: “It’s completely unacceptable for staff to be put in danger when they are simply trying to do their job.

“Such injuries cause unnecessary stress and can have a huge impact on someone’s health.

“This means time off and ultimately has an impact on patients’ treatment.

“Training needs to get better and trusts must enforce safety.”

The risk of infection from an infected patient following exposure to a patient’s blood via a needlestick injury is roughly one in three for hepatitis B, one in 30 for hepatitis C and one in 300 for HIV.

Medical staff accounted for 11 per cent of the successful claims between 2012 and 2017.

Surgeons face the particular danger of accidentally stabbing themselves with an infected needle or sharp instrument while operating.

In 2016 more than 8,000 patients were put at the centre of a major health scare after it emerged they had been treated by a surgeon infected with hepatitis C.

The surgeon, Robert Pickard, had unknowingly lived with the disease for decades after injuring himself while carrying out a routine 
operation.

The consultant died in 2012, having stopped practising when he was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. However, the alarm was raised when two of his patients subsequently tested positive for hepatitis C.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Hard-working NHS staff deserve to work in a safe environment.

“We expect all trusts to have clear guidance on disposal of used needles and all other sharp materials.”

Grahame White