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Surgeons must do more to report needle injuries

25 June 2009

The majority of surgeons are not reporting ‘sharps injuries’ they receive, according to a paper published this month* in the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The report found that only a quarter of surgeons followed proper procedure and reported all of their sharps injuries – perforations of the skin caused by a needle, scalpel or other sharp instrument – putting themselves and patients at risk of potentially life-threatening blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV.

Researchers questioned surgeons at three district general hospitals in the UK.  Although a large majority of the surgeons questioned had experienced one or more sharps injuries in the last year, only 25.8% of those affected had reported them all. When asked why, more than a third of surgeons responded that they did not think it was necessary as they considered the patient to be at a low risk of carrying an infectious virus. A further third said they had no time and almost a quarter simply said they were not concerned.

This report supports a previous study published in January of this year** in the same journal which found that only 9% of the surgeons who sustained a needlestick injury followed set procedures for such an event, and the evidence points to problems with surgeons’ attitudes and awareness of risk. A report published in 2003 by the Senate of Surgery of Great Britain and Ireland – an association of all major surgical bodies – recommended that all sharps injuries should be reported at the earliest possible stage, as early treatment can significantly reduce the chance of acquiring some infections, particularly HIV.

Emeritus Professor Jangu Banatvala, a leading authority on virology, said: “Some surgeons do not fully appreciate the inherent risks and dangers associated with sharps injuries. This is an issue that can be addressed at the training stage: awareness and training of the risks of blood-borne infections should start in the undergraduate curriculum and be reinforced from time to time thereafter”.