NHS trusts not compliant with safer sharps rules two years after law implemented

MindMetre research reveals trusts need to do more to protect staff from needlestick injuries

Many NHS trusts are not complying with ‘safer sharps’ rules two years after regulations were first enacted, worrying research shows.

The probe by MindMetre has trusts are still putting NHS employees at unnecessary risk of needlestick injuries and possible blood-borne infections such as hepatitis and HIV.

The original directive, enacted through the HSE regulation, explicitly expects healthcare and care institutions to use safety devices in the vast majority of cases, and here we have clear evidence that this is not yet happening

Adoption of sharps that incorporate safety mechanisms ‘where it is reasonably practicable to do so’ is an explicit feature of compliance with HSE guidance on implementing Health and Safety (Sharps Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013.

In order to build a picture of the current level of adoption and compliance with ‘safer sharps’ regulations in UK acute, and other, healthcare institutions, MindMetre conducted research into actual purchasing volumes of safer sharps across the UK NHS acute sector.

Data was collected through a series of Freedom of Information requests conducted in June 2014, January-May 2015 and August-September 2015. The results reveal that, although progress has been made, the proportion of safer sharp devices is still nowhere near what would be reasonably expected in order to be fully compliant.

Failure to comply is quite simply an abnegation of the basic duty to look after staff safety at all levels

The category of Cannulation showed the greatest compliance levels with sharps regulations, with 79% of devices purchased in the first six months of 2015. Cannulation is recognised as one of the higher-risk procedures.

Blood Collection proved the next-most-compliant category, with 68% of devices purchased incorporating a safety mechanism in H1 2015. This is surprisingly-low given that this is considered a high-risk procedure involving significant volumes of blood.

Compliance was lowest in the Injection category. Here, only 44% of devices purchased in the first six months of 2015 incorporated a safety device, despite the fact that the most-common device to be involved in needlestick injuries is the syringe and needle. Bearing in mind that minute quantities of blood can transmit potentially fatal infections, this is particularly concerning.

Paul Lindsell, MindMetre managing director, said of the findings: “These levels of compliance are clearly unacceptable. The original EU Directive, enacted through the HSE regulation, explicitly expects healthcare and care institutions to use safety devices in the vast majority of cases, and here we have clear evidence that this is not yet happening.

It is to be hoped that these notices will focus the minds of non-compliant healthcare organisations and inspire a rapid upswing in the use of safety devices

“No wonder the Health and Safety Executive is issuing improvement notices with increasing frequency to non-compliant organisations – so far, mainly to trusts and care homes – telling them to radically change their practices and use safety devices ‘wherever practicable’. It is to be hoped that these notices will focus the minds of non-compliant healthcare organisations and inspire a rapid upswing in the use of safety devices. We shall certainly be tracking further progress in the latter part of this year.

He added: “Sharps injuries and resulting infections can not only cause immense personal distress, but can also ruin careers. That applies to everyone in the healthcare setting, from ancillary workers, through to care professionals and top clinicians. Failure to comply is quite simply an abnegation of the basic duty to look after staff safety at all levels.”

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