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Today, on World AIDS day, Health First Europe (HFE) held a special event in the European Parliament to raise awareness amongst decision makers and the public about the risks of sharps’ injuries to healthcare workers and the risk of infection with HIV, Hepatitis or other fatal infections. HFE urgently calls for supplementary safety requirements to address this public health issue.

Nurses, doctors and other medical staff in the EU are exposed to highly elevated levels of risk, a fact which is all too often ignored. It is estimated that 1 million injuries from needles or other sharp medical devices are suffered by healthcare workers across the European Union each year. More than 20 dangerous blood-borne pathogens are transmitted by contaminated needles, including Hepatitis and HIV. If injured by a contaminated needle, the chances of becoming infected are as high as 1 in 3 for Hepatitis B, 1 in 30 for Hepatitis C and 1 in 300 for HIV.

At invitation from Health First Europe (HFE), nurses from eight European countries today met with MEPs at the European Parliament to discuss the risk of needlestick injuries and the threat that they face at the workplace every day. Existing European worker safety legislation has effectively done little to protect healthcare workers from needlesticks and other medical sharps and from accidental infection. Yet, more than 80% of such injuries can be prevented through a combination of training, safer working practices and the use of medical devices incorporating needlestick protection technology, as independent studies show.

“The fact that one million sharps’ injuries occur in the EU every year, not counting an estimated 60-80% of unreported incidents, is a clear sign that not enough is being done to protect our healthcare workers from injuries”, said Ria von Bönninghausen of the Standing Committee of Nurses to the EU and associate member of Health First Europe. “We want European worker safety and health directives amended and we want national authorities to be stricter in the implementation of these directives, across the EU”.

Health First Europe (HFE) fully supports recommendations made by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work that aim at implementing the use of devices with safety features, modifying work practices and training workers in the safe use and disposal of needles . However, HFE also calls on the European Commission to work towards amending existing legislation, to include specific requirements to protect healthcare workers from sharps’ injuries. “We specifically suggest the inclusion of an additional annex to Directive 2000/54/EC, concerning biological agents. Given the seriousness of the situation, we believe that we need additional legal requirements for the management of risk in the healthcare context”, commented Imelda Read, Honorary Chairperson of HFE.

But where the European Commission has a decisive role to play in developing the legal framework for a better protection of healthcare workers, EU Member States are equally called upon to consistently apply and enforce the highest standards of safety. Where sharps’ injuries are concerned, the level of protection provided for healthcare workers across the EU varies greatly. The adoption in recent years of specific protection measures in countries such as France, Germany or Spain has been an encouraging development. However, Health First Europe (HFE) warns that sufficient protection measures are not being implemented, or are not even being considered, by the majority of healthcare providers across the EU.

“Action must be taken now to reduce the risks of sharp’s injuries to healthcare workers across the EU”, says Bert Van Caelenberg, Secretary General of Eurofedop, the European Federation of Public Service Employees, and member of Health First Europe. “It is the responsibility of the EU Member States but also of the European Commission to ensure that no disparity exists in the protection provided to our workers, anywhere in the EU”.