Landmark Government rules revealed today allowing healthcare workers with HIV to return to practice, are a victory for human rights, according to Dental Protection.
The dental defence organisation has lobbied for the last decade against rules that prevent HIV infected dentists from pursuing their professional vocation.
The regulations were brought in after the publicity associated with the death of an American dental patient in 1990, one of six patients believed to have been infected with HIV in an unresolved Florida case*. Regulatory bodies in most countries responded to the case differently – the UK banned all HIV-infected healthcare professionals from undertaking exposure-prone procedures, leading to health workers becoming deskilled, losing their careers, or suffering in silence. Since most dental procedures are classified as exposure prone, the ban had a devastating significance for dentists diagnosed with the disease.
There have been two major developments since the rules were put in; anti-retroviral therapy, which is effective in lowering the viral level for patients with HIV, and improved infection control standards. Together these mean that it is safe for a dentist with the disease to return to work provided they comply with the conditions of the new regulations.
Kevin Lewis, Dental Director said, 'This is a huge victory for human rights. After decades of living in fear and dealing with prejudice, dentists can finally return to their professional calling, although regrettably it is too late for some to do so. Patient safety should be at the forefront of healthcare, but the original rules were introduced as a reaction to a mysterious and exceptional case, the likes of which we have not seen before or since.'
'We have long pushed for the scientific basis for limiting healthcare workers in their clinical practise to be reassessed. Although we welcome the new rules, we must know how they will work in practice, as well as ensuring that healthcare workers are given support and any additional training to re-enter the profession in order to deliver the safest possible patient care.'