News story

Consultation on HIV positive healthcare workers launched

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A consultation into relaxing the restrictions placed on the work that can be undertaken by HIV positive healthcare workers was launched today.

This follows a review by a group of leading experts which jointly examined evidence around the risk of HIV transmission from healthcare workers with HIV to patients.

The expert review

The Expert Advisory Group on AIDS, the UK Advisory Panel of Healthcare Workers Infected with Bloodborne Viruses and the Advisory Group on Hepatitis found that there have been no reported transmissions of HIV from healthcare workers even though there have been investigations involving 10,000 patients who were tested for HIV. They also found that few other countries have such tight restrictions as the UK.

Under the current system, healthcare workers diagnosed with HIV are not allowed to perform most surgical or dental procedures. These restrictions will remain in place until the outcome of the consultation is decided.

The risk of HIV transmission

The expert advisory groups concluded that the risk of HIV transmission from a healthcare worker who is undiagnosed and untreated is extremely low for the most invasive procedures such as open cardiac surgery. It is negligible from the least invasive procedures such as a local anaesthetic injection in dentistry.

The risk of HIV infection to any patient having the most invasive type of exposure prone procedure - such as open cardiac surgery - has been estimated as about one in five million, which is a similar level of risk to being struck and killed by lightning. These risks can be reduced even further by effective antiretroviral drug therapy.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “Patient safety is always our top priority. Our knowledge and understanding and the treatment of HIV have all developed enormously over the last 25 years. It is right that we now consider our current guidelines to reflect what the science is telling us about the risk of HIV transmission from healthcare workers with HIV to patients.

“There are currently around 110 healthcare workers with HIV in England who might be affected by the current restrictions. We need to ensure that the guidelines and restrictions imposed are evidence-based and achieve a fair balance between patient safety and the rights and responsibilities of healthcare workers with HIV.

“This consultation will seek wide views on the expert advice and whether it should be accepted.”

Views invited

The consultation invites views from the medical community as well as the public on whether current restrictions should be maintained or how the expert group’s findings could be implemented effectively.

The consultation runs until 9 March 2012.