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Survey highlights 50% rise in sharps injuries

09 June 2021

EMPLOYERS MUST ensure all nursing staff using sharp instruments get the training they need.

A new RCN report shows 15% of respondents to a recent survey suffered a sharps injury in 2020. That’s 50% higher than when the survey was last carried out in 2008.

Sharps injuries occur when a needle, blade or other medical instrument penetrates the skin.  

Reasons for the rise include fatigue induced by the pandemic, low staffing levels, lack of training and safer sharps and sharps bins not being available.

Jude Diggins, RCN interim director of nursing, said the findings suggest the pandemic has highlighted a problem that has not yet been fully tackled.

“Most sharps injuries can be prevented and there are legal requirements on employers to take steps to prevent health care staff being exposed to infectious agents from sharps injuries,” she said.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the survey said they had received at least one sharps injury during their careers. A quarter of mental health unit staff sustained sharps injuries in the last 12 months, as did 22% of care and nursing home staff. 

Blood and body fluid exposure has the potential to put health care workers at risk of infection, yet more than 80% of respondents to the survey said they perceived the disease risk from sharps injuries as low to nil. 

The survey of more than 7,500 RCN members also revealed that a quarter of respondents had no training on safe sharps use, and more than two in 10 had no education on reporting sharps injuries.

Even after an injury, fewer than half attended a follow-up meeting, and 40% reported not receiving any medical advice.

In 2013, following campaigning by the RCN, new safer sharps regulations were introduced in Great Britain to try to reduce sharps injuries.  

Rose Gallagher, RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control, said all nursing staff who work with sharps should have training in how to use them safely.

"In 2013 new regulations were brought in to reduce sharps injuries but these findings suggest there is still some way to go to protect all parts of the nursing workforce,” she said. 

“We now need to see greater efforts for better reporting and training to not only prevent injuries but to ensure there are stronger procedures to follow-up and protect nursing staff after injuries.” 

Today’s report, Blood and Body Fluid Exposures in 2020, makes a number of recommendations, including that all organisations annually review their sharps injuries data and prevention policies.

The RCN says the report findings reflect the rapidly changing role of nursing staff, who, in recent years, have taken on many of the tasks traditionally done by doctors.

The RCN worked in collaboration with Sharpsmart UK Ltd to deliver the survey and produce the report.