Great Britain: HIV Tests for National Health Service Staff an "Attack on Foreign Workers"
January 3, 2003
Following its announcement that all new National Health Service staff involved in surgery, obstetrics and dentistry will be required to undergo tests for HIV and hepatitis to protect their patients, Britain's Department of Health was accused Thursday of a politically motivated attack on foreign workers. The testing was prompted by the increase in recruitment of NHS staff from overseas. One in three adults is HIV-infected in some sub-Saharan countries that together supplied more than 3,000 NHS nurses in 2001.Adapted from:
Medical organizations said the move has more to do with silencing critics of NHS's overseas recruitment. The Health Department has admitted the risk of medical transmission is low.
Janet Fyle of the Royal College of Midwives said, "Unless staff are tested repeatedly it is a pointless exercise. People can become infected at any time. We think testing all new staff is a smokescreen to keep [the government's] critics quiet. There have been only two cases of HIV transmission by health workers in the last 20 years."
An estimated one in five NHS workers carry out "exposure prone procedures" where injury to the worker could expose the patient to their blood. NHS recruited 74,000 staff members in 2001, implying that 15,000 would have to undergo compulsory tests. All other staff will be offered voluntary tests. Those who test positive will still be permitted to work for NHS provided they do not carry out exposure prone procedures. Overseas staff will be tested in their country of origin and again on arrival in Britain. The measures, developed by experts convened by the Health Department, tighten the existing requirement for health workers involved in exposure prone procedures to be tested if they think they are infected.
The Royal College of Surgeons said it wanted a complementary right to test patients, rather than workers, where there was a risk of workers being infected. A spokesperson for the Health Department denied the measures were directed at staff from overseas.
01.03.03; Jeremy Laurance
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.