Department of Health plans to remove the restriction on HIV-positive dentists practising in England from April 2014 have been welcomed by the British Dental Association (BDA). The move, which was announced today (15 August 2013), has been called for by the BDA and others for many years.
It is a victory for common sense, the BDA believes, because it reflects the fact that, globally, over the past 20 years no dental professional has been linked with the transmission of HIV infection to a patient, and huge advances in anti-retroviral treatment mean that the virus can be suppressed to the point where it is undetectable in a blood test.
The BDA has long called for an end to the policy whereby HIV-infected dentists who are otherwise well and on effective anti-retroviral treatment are forced to give up their chosen career. Further, patient safety in dental settings has been enhanced over the past two decades by the adoption of universal precautions and a legal duty to comply with rigorous infection control procedures.
The Department of Health’s change in policy is based on an expert assessment by a Tripartite Working Group of the accumulated evidence from around the world on the negligible risk of transmitting HIV from an infected healthcare worker to a patient.
Today’s announcement indicates that HIV-positive healthcare workers who return to clinical duties will be required to demonstrate that they are on combined anti-retroviral treatment, must have achieved undetectable levels of the virus and will be subject to regular monitoring.
The BDA’s scientific adviser, Professor Damien Walmsley, said:
“Under the current regulations, being HIV-positive effectively brings a dentist’s career to an end. That is a tragedy for the individual practitioner and an unnecessary waste of the taxpayers’ money invested in their training. Despite extensive investigation, no case of HIV transmission from a healthcare worker to a patient has ever been identified in the UK.
“That is unsurprising. Dentists in the UK comply with rigorous infection control procedures to protect both patients and the dental team against the risk of transmission of blood-borne infections.
“The revised policy announced today, which brings England into line with nations including Sweden, France, Canada and New Zealand, is good news for patients and HIV-positive dentists alike. We look forward to seeing its implementation.”
Notes to editors:
1. Universal precautions means that the same infection control procedures are used for all patients because a medical history and examination may not identify asymptomatic carriers of infectious disease. This approach protects patients and healthcare workers alike from any potential transmission of a blood borne virus.
2. A review by the Tripartite Working Group in 2011 into the management of HIV positive healthcare workers in 2011 observed that nearly 10,000 patients in the UK have been tested for HIV following an exposure prone procedure performed by an HIV-infected HCW and no cases of transmission were identified.. This report recommends that restrictions on HIV-infected HCWs be relaxed if certain conditions are met and underpins the Department of Health’s announcement today.
3. The BDA responded to consultations on this issue launched by Governments across the UK in 2011.
4. David Croser of Dental Protection was honoured by the BDA in 2012 for his campaigning work on this issue.
5. The British Dental Association (BDA) is the professional association for dentists in the UK. It represents dentists working in general practice, in community and hospital settings, in academia and research, and in the armed forces, and includes dental students.
6. For further information, please contact the BDA’s media team on 0207 563 4145/46 or visit http://www.bda.org/news-centre/. You can also follow news from the BDA on Twitter: http://twitter.com/theBDA