The government is considering recommendations on the status of HIV-positive dentists which would see them back in practice.
A Department of Health (DH) spokesperson said: ‘The Department has recently received advice on the management of HIV-infected healthcare workers from the joint working group of the Expert Advisory Group on AIDS, the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood-borne Viruses and the Advisory Group on Hepatitis.
‘We are considering the working group’s advice carefully and will respond in due course.’
Critics of the legislation suggest that the precautionary response adopted in the UK should now be reviewed because of advances in the medical management of HIV disease and because of the significant improvements in infection control standards.
David Croser, of Dental Protection, and a campaigner for a change on the legislation says: ‘Just recently, infection control standards in UK dental surgeries have been upgraded again with the universal adoption of HTM 01-05.
‘In addition, the introduction of bodies like CQC – and its equivalent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – will provide a regular audit of those newly elevated infection control standards, thereby assuring the track record that has already been proven to successfully prevent transmission of blood-borne pathogens (in both directions, from patient to dentist and dentist to patient).’
So far in the UK, there have been no reported healthcare worker-to-patient HIV transmissions.
The DH maintains: ‘Exposure prone procedures are those where there is a risk that the healthcare worker may be injured and their blood could contaminate a patient’s open tissue; for example surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, dentistry and specialist nursing.’
DH guidance recommends that new healthcare workers who will carry out exposure-prone procedures should be tested and shown to be free from infection with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Healthcare workers have an ongoing professional duty to seek medical advice on the need to be tested for HIV if they think they may have been exposed to the risk of infection.
If found to be infected, they should then seek occupational health advice on the need to modify their working practices to protect patients.
Best practice guidance can be found here.