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After twenty years the UK government has raised restrictions on HIV-Positive staff that stopped them performing invasive procedures.

In the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was rocking the world the NHS took the step to place a ban on HIV-Positive staff carrying out invasive procedures on patients. Now in 2013 that ban has finally been lifted, bringing the NHS back in touch with the times. Back in the early days of HIV/AIDS, when the government put leaflets through everyone’s doors and played tombstone based AIDS scare-tactics on TV, HIV was still a death-sentence.

A few years later in 1993 the government took a step to reassure the general public, and a ban was placed on HIV-Positive NHS staff performing invasive procedures on patients. We didn’t know a whole lot about the virus back then, what was causing it, how it worked, how to best effectively prevent it and we certainly didn’t know how to treat it – so the ban was largely a wise move. That said, in the last twenty years there have only been four reported cases of healthcare worker to patient HIV infection – none of them proven, none of them in the UK.

Fast forward to 2013 and the picture is much different. Scientists are discovering more and more about the HIV virus each week, we know how to prevent infection and we have effective treatments that not only improve the health of those living with HIV but they also dramatically reduce the likelihood of onward transmission. So it seems a wise move for the government to raise the restrictions and let our talented NHS employees do their jobs properly.

There are an estimated 110 staff in the NHS who have declared themselves HIV-Positive, although the real number much be may higher with members of staff choosing either not to disclose or get tested for fear of losing their career. Hopefully the lifting of restrictions will encourage more staff to be open, and get tested.

Whilst there will be no restrictions on staff who are HIV-Positive, they will be kept on a list and their treatment monitored to make sure they remain undetectable – a prudent move in the name of patient safety and peace of mind.

For further analysis see The Guardian’s piece on the story.

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