Dental Protection, the UK’s leading indemnity provider for dentists, is challenging the Department of Health to withdraw the current rule that stops HIV positive members of the dental team from treating patients in spite of evidence that there is no risk of transmission.
It is twenty years since the draconian rules were introduced preventing dentists (and other healthcare professionals) from providing treatment to patients. Initially introduced as a precautionary measure soon after the mysterious case of Dr Acer, a dentist in the USA who was thought to have infected six patients with the AIDS virus, there has never been any other recorded transmission of the disease in a dental setting.
Meanwhile many UK dentists along with dental hygienists and therapists have lost their livelihood because they have been forced to stop working in their chosen profession. On being given their own diagnosis they were told to ‘clear their desk’ with immediate effect.
Anti-retroviral medication can now effectively control HIV, so that patients with HIV display levels of the infective particle in their blood which are too low even to measure. This combined with the high levels of infection control that are demanded of the profession means that much of Europe along with countries like Australia and America have removed this outdated restriction for dentistry.
The Beijing Declaration from the 6th World Workshop on Oral Health and Disease in AIDS in April 2009 highlighted the outdated stance currently adopted by the Department of Health. Failure to revise its guidance in the light of the latest consensus of evidence-based opinion leaves the Department open to accusations of discrimination.
In calling for greater fairness and a more consistent application of the evidence, Kevin Lewis, Director of Dental Protection said:
“Dental Protection has championed the cause of HIV-infected dental health professionals for more than a decade in several parts of the world and will continue to take action against this kind of unfair and discriminatory treatment of its members.
“The international evidence base is overwhelming and the Beijing Declaration unequivocal in confirming that HIV infected dentists can continue to practise safely with no risk to patients, subject only to some very clear and manageable criteria being met. In every other area of professional activity, dental health professionals are directed to follow the evidence base, but HIV has for too long remained a singular exception – during which time careers have been destroyed, lives have been devastated and patients have been deprived access to safe dentists.
“The time has come to acknowledge the evidence and stop running scared of ill-informed public perception and media scaremongering. It seems to be forgotten that infected dental health professionals are also patients themselves and they should they be treated no less fairly than other patients. The sound of foot-dragging has been deafening and some immediate action needs to be taken to bring the UK guidance out of the previous century.”
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