An increasing number of nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff are being exposed to potentially fatal viruses because of unsafe needles and a sharp increase in the number of accidental needlestick injuries, Unison, Britain's biggest union, said.

An increasing number of nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff are being exposed to potentially fatal viruses because of unsafe needles and a sharp increase in the number of accidental needlestick injuries, Unison, Britain's biggest union, said.

The latest figures, published by the Public Health Laboratory Service, show there was an increase of 73 per cent in the number of injury reports last year. An estimated 200,000 healthcare workers suffer a needlestick injury each year.

Unison said that although many more people who suffered from needlestick injuries were coming forward and being tested for blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B, C and HIV, the present position was unsatisfactory. The union is calling for compulsory monitoring and reporting of all needlestick injuries across the country, to assess the scale of the problem.

"Less than half of all hospitals take part in a voluntary scheme to record exposures and there are thousands of GP surgeries and dental practices which go completely uncounted," Jon Richards, the national officer for health at Unison, said. "We are determined to raise awareness of the dangers of infections by blood-borne viruses and they misery they cause. Compulsory monitoring is crucial to achieving this."

The union wants a ban on the use of old-fashioned needles and the introduction nation-wide of safer needles such as retractable needles or those with protective shields.

"The differences in cost is pennies and the difference to health workers' lives and peace of mind is immeasurable," Mr Richards said.

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