Ban on HIV positive health care staff to be lifted

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The government has announced the ban preventing HIV positive surgeons, dentists and other health care staff from performing certain medical procedures is to be scrapped.

Healthcare workers with HIV are currently banned from taking part in certain invasive procedures and dentists are suspended immediately after diagnosis.

About 110 staff currently working in the NHS, including doctors and midwives, are covered by the current regulations.

The ban is due to be lifted next April. Healthcare staff in England, Wales and Scotland having HIV treatment will be able to take part in all tasks, including surgery and dentistry.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said there is no risk to patients.

“Many of the UK’s HIV policies were designed to combat the perceived threat at the height of HIV concerns in the 1980s and have now been left behind by scientific advances and effective treatments. It is time we changed these outdated rules which are sometimes counter-productive and limit people’s choices on how to get tested or treated early for HIV.

“What we need is a simpler system that continues to protect the public through encouraging people to get tested for HIV as early as possible and that does not hold back some of our best healthcare workers because of a risk that is more remote than being struck by lightning.”

The Department of Health has also confirmed it will lift the ban on the sale of HIV self-testing kits in the UK, established in 1992.

Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Advances in medication have transformed what it means to live with HIV, and it’s great to see regulations starting to catch up. People diagnosed in good time can have full, healthy lives, and effective treatment dramatically reduces the risk of the virus being passed on. So long as the right safeguards are in place, there is now no reason why a dentist or a midwife with HIV should be barred from treating patients, or why people who would prefer to test at home should be denied that chance.

“Legislation plays a vital role in shaping attitudes. We hope these changes continue to improve public understanding of HIV and support for those living with the virus.”

Up to 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV but around a quarter of them are unaware they are infected.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be disproportionately affected by the spread of HIV; accounting for almost half of all new cases.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust (NAT), said: “We welcome these changes to the guidance on HIV positive healthcare workers undertaking exposure-prone procedures and the removal of the ban on self-testing as we believe it is vitally important that policies are based on up-to-date scientific evidence and not on fear, stigma or outdated information.

“Allowing healthcare workers living with HIV to undertake exposure-prone procedures corrects the current guidance which offers no more protection for the general public but keeps qualified and skilled people from working in the career they had spent many years training for. We know people are already buying poor quality self-testing kits online which is why NAT have campaigned for a change in the law. Legalisation is an important step to ensure they are regulated, accurate and safe.”