Consultation on HIV positive healthcare workers launched

A consultation into relaxing the restrictions placed on the work that can be undertaken by HIV positive healthcare workers has been launched today by Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, following a review by a group of leading experts. They found that there have been no reported transmissions of HIV from healthcare workers and that few other countries have such tight restrictions as the UK does.

The Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies was advised by the Expert Advisory Group on AIDS, the UK Advisory Panel of Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood-borne Viruses and the Advisory Group on Hepatitis, who jointly examined evidence around the risk of HIV transmission from healthcare workers with HIV to patients.

They found that there have been no reported transmissions of HIV from healthcare workers even though there have been investigations involving 10,000 patients who were tested for HIV. They also found that few other countries have such tight restrictions as the UK does.

Under the current system, healthcare workers diagnosed with HIV are not allowed to perform most surgical or dental procedures. These restrictions will remain in place until the outcome of the consultation is decided.

The expert advisory groups concluded that the risk of HIV transmission from a healthcare worker who is undiagnosed and untreated is extremely low for the most invasive procedures such as open cardiac surgery. It is negligible from the least invasive procedures such as a local anaesthetic injection in dentistry.

The risk of HIV infection to any patient having the most invasive type of exposure prone procedure – such as open cardiac surgery - has been estimated as about one in five million, which is a similar level of risk to being struck and killed by lightning. These risks can be reduced even further by effective antiretroviral drug therapy.

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