Patients tend to associate needles with pain, blood sample collection and medical examinations, whereas for nurses needles stand for the risk of injury, often with grave consequences. Each year medical workers in Europe experience more than a million needlestick injuries.

As many as 75 percent of needlestick injuries and blood splashes occur in the course of patient care. Each needlestick entails a threat of getting infected with over 30 different pathogens, the most dangerous of which are those transmitted by blood, such as HIV or hepatitis B and C viruses.

Rush and stress

For this reason, nurses must neither be hastened nor put under stress while using needles or other sharp medical devices. As explained by Dorota Kilańska from the Polish Nurses Association, mistakes are usually made by nurses working under time pressure or severe stress.

The data concerning European hospitals, quoted at the 4th European Biosafety Network Summit, reveal that each year between 12 and 30 needlestick injuries occur per 100 hospital beds. This figure seems alarming, and so does the risk of contracting a viral infection.

Examining each injury

Unfortunately, nurses are reluctant to report needlestick injuries. Actually, 78 percent of the accidentally stuck fail to do so. Dorota Kilańska claims that nurses do not want to go through additional troubles, or to be considered incompetent.

The procedures, however, make it clear that each injury must be examined to identify a potential infection and, if necessary, to apply appropriate treatment. It may be based on medications reducing the infection development risk.

Safe equipment

Needlestick injuries occur not only during medical procedures, but also when placing back a needle cover. “This is a casual action which was indispensable in the past in order to protect the disposing staff from getting injured, when medical equipment waste was packed in plastic bags," Dorota Kilańska says. Some nurses, however, still do this since in certain medical facilities in the EU there is no absolute ban on putting on the needle covers before their disposal.

Moreover, in many hospitals access to safe equipment, i.e. one that covers, blunts or pulls in the needle right after its use, is still very limited.

The survey conducted among 7 thousand EU nurses shows that 30 percent have not been given access to such equipment while performing their duties. 70 percent have used such devices, though only in certain procedures.

As stipulated by Professor Andrzej Gładysz, an infection disease specialist from Wrocław, such practices are inadmissible in Scandinavia where safe equipment was introduced in the 1980s, even in the situations where the replaced equipment was not fully used up.

Double-gloves rule

The Regulation of the Minister of Health concerning health and safety at work which involves performing the procedures that pose the risk of getting injured while using sharp medical devices has been in force since 27 June 2013. It imposes the obligation to take any possible measures to eliminate the risk of such injuries and to provide access to safeguarded equipment.

Nevertheless, injuries mainly result from human error, which cannot be done away with by any legal regulation. It is, therefore, indispensable to provide for preventive measures and proper employee training. According to Professor Gładysz, putting on double gloves during procedures involving large amounts of blood may cut the risk of injury by up to 68 percent.

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