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Oral Healthcare Workers Living with HIV

Post date: 30/03/2016 | Time to read article: 3 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 03/04/2019

Following years of HIV-positive dentists not being allowed to practise in the UK, the Department of Health has lifted the ban, replacing it with a process regular testing and registration   

  • HIV-infected healthcare workers cannot perform exposure-prone procedures(EPPs) unless registered to do so.
  • Registration with UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Bloodborne Viruses (UKAP) is required  in order to undertake certain lower risk EPPs.
  • EPPs and non EPPs carried out in general dentistry are categorised by levels or risk of bleed-back by UKAP. The document was revised 30 March 2016
  • Active lobbying by Dental Protection since 2005

The ability of oral healthcare professionals to continue practising in the event that they are diagnosed as HIV-positive was the subject of research conducted by Dental Protection in conjunction with the Council of European Dentists in 2008.

The research indicated that the countries of Europe are split between those where the dentist is able to work, and the situation that previously existed in the UK where the dentist must immediately stop working. The evidence base  was reviewed in April 2009 at the 6th World Workshop on Oral Health and Disease in AIDS which produced a consensus statement known as the Beijing Declaration. 

The proceedings of the workshop and the references were published in 2011 in Advances in Dental Research

The Department of Health undertook a public consultation for a change in the regulations affecting HIV positive doctors and dentists. The consultation closed 9 March 2012 and the Department of Health published its response on 15 August 2013.

letter of 16 January 2014 from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, subsequently confirmed the removal of restrictions on Healthcare Workers (HCW) with HIV practising Exposure-Prone Procedures (EPPs) with effect from February 2014. Detailed guidance is available from Public Health England

All HCWs with HIV who wish to perform EPPs must:

  • Be on effective combination antiretroviral drug therapy (cART - although special considerations apply for elite controllers).
  • Have a plasma viral load <200 copies/ml.
  • Be subject to plasma viral load monitoring every 12 weeks.
  • Be under joint supervision of a consultant occupational physician and their treating physician.

In addition, these HIV infected HCWs wishing to perform EPPs need to be registered on a confidential national register, the UKAP-OHR (UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood-borne Viruses – Occupational Health Monitoring Register for BBV Infected HCWs). The UKAP-OHR will be managed by Public Health England (PHE) and will cover the UK. Registration details are available here towards the bottom of the page.

Initial health clearance for HIV positive HCWs who wish to perform EPPs

The decision to clear individual HCWs for work involving EPPs is the responsibility of a consultant occupational physician in consultation with the treating physician.

Consultant occupational physicians can consult an expert panel of HIV physicians experienced in management of HIV positive HCWs, to help with this decision, if required.

In preparing for clearance to perform EPPs, HCWs are advised to;

  • Seek and register with a consultant occupational physician, who will provide their assessment for fitness to initiate or return to EPP work, and manage their registration on the UKAP-OHR.
  • For HCWs who are newly diagnosed and/or new to EPP work, HIV viral load test results will be needed from two identified and validated blood samples (IVS). These to be taken no less than 12 weeks apart by a consultant occupational physician, with viral load levels below 200 copies/ml, to ensure stable suppression of viral load.
  • For HCWs currently restricted from EPPs who are on cART with undetectable viral load (UDVL), one IVS at least 12 weeks since their last UDVL is sufficient proof on which to grant clearance for conducting EPPs.

NHS England has agreed to fund the cost of blood tests, performed in connection with UKAP-OHR, for clinicians working within the NHS. Clinicians without any NHS involvement are ineligible for this funding. To validate blood tests used for registration it is necessary for clinicians to present a passport, or some other suitable form of picture identification, at the time of the test.

UKAP has now published a revision (30 March 2016) of its categorisation of exposure-prone procedures in general dentistry. The number of procedures categorised as non-exposure prone has now been expanded to include treatments in a dentate (or partially dentate) mouth where there would be no risk of bleed-back.

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