Health staff still at risk of needle injuries

Figures released to UNISON by the NHS Business Service Authority has revealed startling variations between NHS Trusts and regions in how they buy and use safety sharps* used by healthcare workers, including needles, syringes and lancets.

A freedom of information request by the union, which represents around 500,000 healthcare staff, found that only 28% of sharps devices purchased this year (2014) were safety devices. This compared with 24% in 2013. 

However while some community trusts reported that 83% of devices they purchased were safety devices, in other areas the figure was as low as 16%.

The main risk from needle stick injuries is when the device has been used and contaminated with bodily fluids. This can cause infection through viruses carried in the blood such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, and bacterium such as tetanus.  

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that as many as 100,000 injuries of health workers are caused by sharps each year. 

UNISON Head of Health Christina McAnea said: 

“Although it is welcomed that more NHS Trusts are purchasing safety sharps, it is clear that much more needs to be done before we can be confident that all employers are doing all they can to keep their staff safe from sharps injuries.

“Health staff often work in frantic, high stress environments and it is crucial that the equipment they use provides them with adequate protection. 100,000 injuries each year is far too many, causing health workers to worry about possible long term ill health if infected, and causing deep distress to workers who are injured. It would be much better if employers prevented this in the first place. 

“Purchasing safer needles and sharps devices would be more cost effective than committed health workers off sick injured by outmoded unsafe instruments.”     

Current health and safety regulations require all healthcare employers to substitute unprotected sharps with ones incorporating safety mechanisms, when it is ‘reasonably practical’ to do so. UNISON is campaigning for the same protections to be all applied to all workers regardless of where they work.


Notes to Editors

* “Sharps” is medical term for devices with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin. These include needles; syringes; lancets (also called “fingerstick” devices); auto injectors, infusion sets and connection needles that connect to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body.