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Are sharps injuries more likely as the NHS gets busier?

May 20, 2016

The NHS has just recorded its busiest 12-month period in history, with figures showing that almost 23 million people visited an accident and emergency (A&E) department in the year leading up to March 2016.

This marks the busiest year ever for the UK's health service, with many believing that it is a great achievement for doctors and nurses to have dealt with such a high number of patients in just 12 months.

However, others are of the view that the increasing levels of pressure doctors have been placed under as a result of the rise in patient numbers means this has not been the best ever year for the NHS, but rather the worst ever.

Some believe the health of both patients and medical professionals could be compromised as a result, with issues such as needlestick injuries potentially more likely.

Just how busy is the NHS?

According to new NHS England figures, March 2016 was the busiest month on record for Britain's A&E departments, with over two million people seeking treatment at their local facility in just one four-week period.

In addition, the last 12 months saw a four per cent rise in the number of patients undergoing routine operations with the NHS, while 91.9 per cent of individuals - 21 million people in total - who visited A&E were seen within four hours over the course of the year.

Although this falls short of the UK government's target of hospitals seeing 95 per cent of A&E patients in this timeframe, an NHS England said the figure recorded was "almost certainly one of the best performances in the Western world".

Between March 2015 and the same month this year, two in three of the most serious ambulance calls were responded to within the eight-minute target. Again, this fails to meet the health service's target of responding to all 'Red 1' calls in this timeframe, but it demonstrates that paramedics and other medical professionals are doing their best to deal with the increasing number of patients who are seeking NHS treatment.

The government has pledged to increase the NHS's budget in the coming years, which many believe will make it easier for the health service to meet these targets and deal with potentially even more patients.

Speaking to BBC News, president of the Royal College of Surgeons Clare Marx stated: "Dedicated frontline doctors and nurses are treating more patients than ever before. We welcome the extra money the government has promised, but we still need a long-term plan to address the growing number of patients."

What does this mean for sharps safety?

Some are concerned that with more patients to treat comes more room for error.

When doctors are under increased levels of stress and pressure at work, it is part of human nature that they may be more likely to slip up.

Extra help is needed in the NHS to reduce the amount of pressure medical professionals face - something that may be made possible by an increase in the health service's recruitment budget - but in the meantime, are accidental sharps injuries more likely?

For injections to be administered in the safest possible manner, it is vital for both the medic and the patient to be calm, with steady hands and the correct hygiene requirements being followed.

Clean gloves need to be worn for each vaccine and new needles are required every time, and a needle safety cap should be used for each jab if possible.

Failure to ensure this, or if injections are being carried out in a busy, high-pressured, stressful environment, means that sharps injuries or the use of contaminated needles may be more likely, potentially leading to the spread of blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV.

As a result, extra pressure could be placed on the NHS as it has to deal with patients affected by needlestick injuries.

With this in mind, extra help for doctors and nurses could see the risk of such mistakes lowered, with patients reassured that they are receiving the highest possible standard of care.

 

Image: monkeybusinessimages via iStock

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