A reluctant win

Some years ago, when safety sharps were first brought to the market, I had a wager with a close friend. This predicted that, after some settling in time when users get used to these new devices, complacency with perhaps a little laziness would result in failure to activate an increasing large percentage of manually operated sharps safety devices. This would result in a paradoxical rise in sharps injuries associated with mis-use of safety sharps.

It seems increasing likely that this sad prediction is coming true.

Latest news from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear 2011 Clinical
Meeting and Exhibition being held from December 4th – 8th in New Orleans, Louisiana, includes the results of a survey of 262 healthcare professionals concerning sharps safety. Though the survey is unpublished and does not include the rigour of a comprehensive statistically sound audit – it was run by a safety device manufacturer so bias cannot be excluded – the results reveal, inter alia, that 43% of respondents do not believe that needle safety devices designed to prevent needlestick injury are always activated after use and prior to disposal at their institutions, and less than 40% check for activation.

The implications are profound. Fewer activations creates an increased risk and waste handlers are in line for sharps injury.

If the needle/syringe assembly is placed immediately into a suitable sharps bin, where is the problem? Regrettably, many injuries are disposal-related and a proportion of those healthcare professionals who fail to activate a needle safety device may take equally little care over what happens next, driven by complacency out of ‘safety’ needles that might be tossed into a soft walled waste sack rather than a sharps bin.

Regulators and healthcare professional bodies need to think about their future stance  and their views on this failure in performance standard. The implications are profound, and if an individual healthcare professional is shown to be at fault then disciplinary and other sanctions must be considered. It is wrong to wait until the worst happens, and some regulatory musing on this right now will send an important message to all that the greatest of care is required.

It’s a wager I never wanted to win, but a reluctant win seems increasingly likely.

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