HIV nurse slams Australia needle danger

Friday 17th May, 2013

Australia is way behind the US and Europe in protecting medical workers from sharp objects, says a former US nurse who contracted HIV and hepatitis C through a needle injury.

Dr Karen Daley, in Melbourne to attend a nursing conference, says it is "surprising and distressing" that Australia does not have safety regulations.

The US made safety devices mandatory in 2001, and the UK and European Union also have regulations.

Around 18,000 Australians, mainly nurses, report needle injuries each year, according to 2008 figures.

Although individual hospitals are making an effort to improve safety, "there is limited progress in making safe devices available to the workforce", Dr Daley says.

"It is distressing to find that a wealthy, forward-thinking country like Australia, with a first-class health system, is so far behind."

Dr Daley, who has a PhD in nursing, has been campaigning for safety since she was infected by a needle protruding from a container in 1998.

"At the beginning I didn't know if I would survive. What I did know was that my injury was preventable."

Needle injuries are among the most prevalent and potentially most dangerous injuries in medical settings.

Dr Daley, president of the American Nurses Association, says a major international concern is safety in the operating theatre, but surgeons can be resistant to change.

"It is important the whole team gets engaged in the conversation."

Australian safety campaigner Anne Trimmer says there are a number of devices that significantly reduce the risk of injuries.

A report by the Medical Technology Association of Australia shows around three-quarters of injuries could be prevented through the use of safety-engineered medical devices, she says.

Lee Thomas, the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, says the health sector should align its safety protocols with legislation that requires the use of engineering controls to eliminate foreseeable workplace hazards.

"Hospitals and the health sector need to take up the challenge to be proactive in protecting their staff," she says, calling for safety-engineered devices to be made available "sooner rather than later".