UNISON’s long running campaign to introduce safer needles and prevent sharps injuries in the NHS paid dividends today (9 June), with the announcement of strict European Union guidelines to protect staff ahead of new legislation.

The UK’s largest health union has fought long and hard to end the agony of sharps and needlestick injuries in the NHS – estimated to be as high as 100,000 a year.

Karen Jennings, UNISON’s Head of Health, led a series of intense negotiations at EU level between the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and HOSPEEM – the European hospital and healthcare employers’ association.

The framework agreement aims to prevent the incidence of injuries with contaminated sharps, protect the workers at risk and establish appropriate response and follow up policies in cases where those injuries occur.

Karen Jennings, said:

“I am very pleased that the hard work and sheer determination of the unions to prevent the agony of sharps and needlestick injuries has paid off at last.

“Subjecting thousands of NHS workers every year to the terror of dirty needles is unnecessary and inhumane, when safer needles are available and cost very little more.

“Instead of losing time while the legislation goes through Europe, the Department of Health should take the initiative and start using safer needles and adopting the new prevention guidelines across the UK now.

“Sadly health workers have died as a result of accidents involving needles. Such injuries cause enormous distress and lead to potentially life threatening diseases such as hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. The cost of providing safer needles is minimal – especially when you add together the cost of treating someone with a needlestick injury – tests, post exposure treatment, time off and compensation – and all this is nothing compared to the human misery caused by this type of injury.”

If the framework agreement is accepted EU legislation will follow the guidelines later this year.


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