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Advice line - Getting to the point

New sharps regulations will have an impact on physios carrying out acupuncture and injection therapy, warns Léonie Dawson

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched its Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013 which will come into force in the UK on 11 May.

Many of the requirements contained in the directive already form part of health and safety law across the country. However, physiotherapists need to be aware of the regulations.

There are new requirements about incorporating protection mechanisms, for example.

These are of particular relevance to physios undertaking injection therapy, phlebotomy, acupuncture, using razors (taping, defibrillators) and neurological testing tips.

The regulations apply to employers, contractors and workers in the healthcare sector, and to NHS trusts and boards, as well as independent healthcare businesses.

Other employers whose main activity is the management, organisation and provision of healthcare are also subject to the regulations.

Most reported sharps injuries relate to hollow needles.

Although the risk of injury to either the patient or to the practitioner from acupuncture needles appears to be relatively low, the new regulations apply, as they cover any medical sharp used by any healthcare practitioner.

In practice, practitioners may not be greatly affected by the introduction of these regulations, as quality risk assessment and safe use and safe disposal should already be incorporated in local sharps policies where sharps are used.

The new regulations on safer sharps specifically advise on incorporating protection mechanisms where practicable.

This may mean physiotherapists using injection therapy will need to review their choice of instrument and explore safe options available in the current market.

I recently spoke with the HSE officers who analysed the responses to a consultation exercise and developed the regulations.

They said informed risk assessments will continue to guide practice. However, as safer sharps (needles, blades and acupuncture needles) become available, they should be considered for practice.

In the meantime, robust risk assessment, infection control and sharps disposal policies are sufficient for the continued safe practice of acupuncture.

See: www.hse.gov.uk/healthservices/needlesticks/

Léonie Dawson is a professional adviser with the CSP

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