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Why are a third of trusts breaching legislation?

June 12, 2014

In May 2010, the European Parliament introduced a new legislation, which aimed to improve the safety of every healthcare worker commonly exposed to needlesticks and medical sharps. The EU Council Directive 2010/32/EU gave each member state three years to come up to the standard set out by the new law.

However, recent figures suggest that around a third of trusts in the UK are in breach of this legislation, which seems unusual as many efforts have been put into raising awareness of the risks, introducing safety devices, and generally working to minimising the risk of exposing healthcare staff to percutaneous injuries.

This is especially difficult to understand as the European Parliament not only gave each member state 36 months to implement any necessary changes, but the lead-up to the introduction of the proposal spanned the best part of a decade. This means that organisations and people working in the sector have had plenty of time to observe and meet the required standard.

Almost a decade ago, in 2005, the European Parliament decided to focus on encouraging health and safety in the workplace, which included a call on each member state to implement specific preventative measures. 

A framework agreement was created and then signed by the Social Partners, and in October 2009 the Commission published a proposal for a directive, which implemented the agreement. This was then adopted by the EU Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee in 2010, showing their support for the proposed law.

Too many trusts breaching
This makes it difficult to understand why such a high number of trusts in Europe are breaching the legislation. Research from MindMetre found that a third of trusts in England do not meet the standards set out by the EU directive, while there have been issues highlighted in the continent as a whole.

Although the report is specific to English trusts, it is likely that factors affecting the uptake of measures outlined in the EU legislation, are affecting markets across the continent. This makes these figures alarming for healthcare organisations across Europe, if not around the world.

However, a report delivered at the European Biosafety Summit hosted in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this year highlighted many issues healthcare workers are facing, which could go some way to explain why so many trusts are in breach across England.

The survey of more than 7,000 European healthcare workers revealed there are many areas that still need to be improved, should needlestick injuries become a "never event" as proposed by global safety campaigns. The figures suggest that a number of factors are harming the progress of the healthcare industries across Europe. 

One of these was a perceived lack of an explicit ban on recapping needles, which is potentially one of the most dangerous practices for healthcare workers as this puts them at a much higher risk of suffering a percutaneous injury.

The research also called for greater access to education and increased awareness for workers in these circumstances. 

Although many organisations may be put off the idea of delivering training sessions to staff members - as they are time consuming and costly - it is explicitly outlined as a responsibility of the employer. This should be carried out as part of the introduction period for new staff and should then be delivered at regular intervals.

This is important as it ensures all members of staff are aware of not only the risks of suffering a needlestick or medical sharp injury, but also the protocol should they see practice fall below set standards, or a percutaneous injury occur. It is also vital that all healthcare workers know the process they should follow should they experience this type of injury themselves, as well as the measures to take to reduce their risk.

Safety devices
Feedback from the workers found that just 70 per cent had access to safety-engineered devices. Outlined in the legislation, this could be a key factor to explain why so many trusts are in breach of it. If staff are not being able to access safety devices, which should be made available by their employer, then they are bound to breach the legislation.

Although there is an upfront cost of buying safety devices, it is far less than the cost of treating needlestick injuries annually. According to the survey, education in how to use safety devices was also falling short and is variable across the member states. 

This is an unacceptable course of action for organisations across the world that want to take worker safety as a priority.

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