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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 6795


Ms HALL (Shortland) (11:39): Before I start the substance of my contribution to this debate, I would like to put on record my thanks to the member for Moore for bringing this motion before the House and for his almost 15-year contribution to debates on this and other issues in the parliament. He has provided support and assistance to many members in this parliament, he has used his medical skills to keep this House operating and he has tendered his healing hand to members on both sides of the parliament. I thank him for what he has done in that area. I also mention—and I think it relates a little bit to the motion we are debating today—his contributions to drug law reform, in particular his contribution to providing a health perspective on that issue. I strongly thank him for his contribution and I thank him for his friendship.

This motion raises health issues relating to needle-stick and other types of sharps injuries. Needle-stick injuries can be experienced by any healthcare professional who uses needles or any other sharp object. That includes individuals from a wide range of occupations who work in hospitals, aged care, mental health or other healthcare services, such as social and community services. My daughter-in-law is a nurse and works in accident and emergency services. She has told me that many nurses worry about the impact that sharps injuries can have on health professionals. We read regularly about such incidents in the newspapers and we know, as legislators, that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed—and we know that we have been a little bit slow in running with it.

Data from the EPINetTM system suggests that in United States' hospitals, on average, incur approximately 30 needle-stick injuries per 100 beds per year. In Australia, at least 18,000 healthcare professionals suffer from a needle-stick injury every year. The true rate is not known in Australia. The numbers are likely to be a lot higher than are reported under the NSI reporting scheme. Numerous studies have estimated the percentage of needle-stick injuries not reported with results ranging between 30 per cent and 80 per cent. Reporting of needle-stick injuries decreases as the number of injuries increases—which is really quite scary. The more injuries there are, the less they are reported. That shows a general attitude to needle-stick injuries within the workplace. The attitude should be one of great care and the culture should be one of reporting incidents immediately, seeking treatment and having tests. Rather than that, the issue is pushed aside. I find that extremely disturbing. For cases where the person is experiencing their first injury, 84 per cent of incidents are reported. But that number drops to 63 per cent where a person has had three to four injuries and to only 24 per cent where a person has had more than five injuries. So there is this very complacent attitude. Therefore, there are likely to be over 30,000 needle-stick injuries occurring in Australia every year.

One in nine nurses in Australia has had at least one needle-stick injury in the past 12 months. Nurses incur the highest proportion of the total needle-stick injuries in comparison to other health professionals. Data reported from New South Wales public hospitals indicates that needle-stick injuries pose a significant risk to healthcare workers in New South Wales. Preliminary results indicate that 40 per cent of healthcare workers who have experienced a needle-stick injury in New South Wales are registered nurses, and I made the point a moment ago that the highest percentage of needle-stick injuries are incurred by nurses, followed by medical officers.

Most of the needle-stick injuries involved hollow-bore needles, and figures are consistent with previous reports by the International Healthcare Worker Safety Centre of the University of Virginia. The greatest hazard associated with needle-stick injury is the transmission of blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV—which is the virus that causes immune deficiency syndrome. A further 20 per cent of other pathogens—such as malaria, infectious mononucleosis, diphtheria, herpes, tuberculosis and syphilis—can also be transmitted in that way. Transmission of pathogens may occur not only with freshly contaminated needles and sharp objects but also with needles or sharp objects that have carried dry blood. Once again, there have been some very high profile cases that relate to dry blood. Transmission rates vary by type and severity of exposure. However, the transmission risk is high for viruses such as HBV as it can remain stable and infectious for more than a week.

I think that the argument in relation to this motion —the words, the results and the effect of the argument—speaks for itself. There are so many reasons why governments need to act to deal with this. The cost of needle-stick injuries is substantial for the Australian healthcare system, due to the costs associated with the management of the exposure to blood and body fluids and the prevention and treatment of blood-borne pathogens. Additionally, needle-stick injuries can result in great stress for the injured health professionals and their families, and I do not think that we can underestimate the impact that that has. The simple fact that so many of these incidents are not reported shows that there can be a complacency, but it can also show that the worker may fear having it investigated. Making it an issue that needs to be dealt with and that health systems and governments require proper reporting of really will lead to an amelioration of a number of these problems.

I think that the amendment that is being made is very sound. We do need to have this issue looked at, and Safe Work Australia is a very good body to undertake such a review. I believe that the state and territory governments definitely have a very important role to play in this. I finish by saying this is an issue that we need to address. This is an issue that I know the member for Moore is totally committed to seeing an improvement in, and I thank him for bringing it to the House and for all the fine work that he has performed within this parliament. Thank you, Member for Moore.