x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Healthcare workers not trained in needle use

A survey of healthcare workers in Dubai and Sharjah shows half have not been properly trained to handle used needles.

DUBAI // A survey of healthcare workers in Dubai and Sharjah showed that half had not been properly trained to handle used needles. Results of the survey, taken in 2006 of 1,420 doctors, nurses and other hospital workers, were presented yesterday at the International Risk Management Conference. The report's author, Dr Anna Jacob, a specialist physician at the Welcare Hospital in Mirdif, said a lack of proper regulations and safety training could put healthcare workers and patients at risk of infection from blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis and HIV.

"Health workers are screened when they are employed, but when there is an incident involving a sharp object there is usually a three-month wait before they are cleared of or diagnosed with a virus. In that incubation period there could be a threat to patients," she said. As a result of her research, which showed that a fifth of health workers had been injured by sharp objects, and that half of those injuries resulted in infections, some steps had been taken to improve safety. Around 90 per cent of those injuries had been a result of staff being unfamiliar with "universal precaution" measures, the internationally recognised standards on how to handle sharp objects in hospitals.

"Universal precaution standards are not rocket science," Dr Jacob said. "It involves washing hands with soap and water, wearing gloves and masks, disinfecting instruments, using gloves and leak-proof bags to handle soiled linen, and using puncture-proof containers to discard contaminated sharp objects." Staff previously had to pay for immunisation against hepatitis B, which meant that around half did not get the vaccination - but as a result of the survey those injections had been made available for free. Better systems for reporting such injuries had also been put in place, Dr Jacob added.

However, she said private hospitals in the UAE still had no access to retroviral drugs which, if taken in the first hour after contact with an infected needle, could significantly reduce the risk of the health worker contracting the human immunodeficiency virus. "In the future there may be vaccine for HIV, but until then, preventing the risk of infection is key," she said. gmclenaghan@thenational.ae