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NHS will lift HIV-positive doctors surgery ban

England's chief medical officer said it was time to scrap 'outdated rules'. Picture: PA

England's chief medical officer said it was time to scrap 'outdated rules'. Picture: PA

  • by LYNDSAY BUCKLAND
 

A BAN on NHS workers with HIV carrying out certain procedures on patients is to be lifted, officials have announced.

Staff across the UK who are undergoing treatment for HIV will be able to take part in all procedures from which they

are currently banned, including surgery and dentistry.

The new guidance on HIV-positive workers will apply across the UK from next year after being developed by experts including Health Protection Scotland.

Yesterday it was also announced that self-testing kits for HIV will be legalised in the UK from April 2014, with the aim of improving early detection by letting people get results at home if they are embarrassed about getting tested.

If a test is positive, people will be advised to have a follow-up test at an NHS clinic to confirm the results.

Scotland’s chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns said HIV-positive staff would be able to undertake previously restricted procedures only if they are on treatment.

They would also need to have very low or undetectable levels of HIV – known as HIV viral load – in their system and be subject to regular monitoring of their treatment by clinicians. “Patients are also protected by infection-control procedures, which minimise the risk of the transmission of all infections, including any infection from healthcare

worker to patient,” he said.

Announcing the changes yesterday, Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said science had moved on and better treatment meant HIV was often a chronic condition that could be managed, with people living long and

normal lives.

Prof Davies said: “We’ve got outdated rules. At the moment, we bar totally safe healthcare workers who are on treatment with HIV from performing many surgical treatments, and that includes dentists.”

She added: “What we want to do, and want to get over, is how society needs to move from thinking about HIV as positive or negative and thinking about HIV as a death sentence, to thinking about whether they’re infectious or not infectious.”

Prof Davies said she was

worried that the public “had not caught up with the reality of

HIV treatment”.

About 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV, although experts say a quarter of those who are infected do not know they have it. In 2011, there were 6,000 new diagnoses of HIV in the UK.

Until now, workers with HIV have been barred from taking part in “exposure-prone” procedures, such as those where all of their hands cannot be seen all of the time and they may be in contact with sharp material or instruments.

But now they will be allowed to carry out all the procedures where a ban was previously in place, including surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology treatments, midwifery, specialist nursing and dentistry.

 

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