Compulsory HIV tests on health staff urged

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The Independent Online
THE LATEST case of a surgeon with HIV has again raised the question of whether doctors and other health workers should all be tested for the Aids virus.

Yesterday, as a Kent hospital received thousands of calls from worried patients who had been operated on by the surgeon, several questions remained unanswered.

Terence Shuttleworth, director of gynaecology and obstetrics at All Saints Hospital, Chatham, became ill at the beginning of last week and is being treated at a hospital in a different area.

The first that Medway Health Authority knew of his condition was a telephone call from the Department of Health, which had been informed by the hospital that was treating him. Over 10 years Mr Shuttleworth treated 17,000 women. Yesterday 6,000 phoned for advice and another 80 called at the hospital.

Ken Hesketh, Medway district general manager, said although the surgeon had a couple of bouts of illness earlier this year, there was no indication of his condition.

Terry Dicks, MP for Hayes and Harlington, called for compulsory HIV testing of health workers. But this has always been resisted as impractical, since it would mean testing thousands of health workers at regular intervals throughout their working lives.

Jo Jordan, a consultant surgeon and spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the college advised all members to follow existing HIV guidelines.

He said: 'I can well understand people will want to be reassured that their surgeon is HIV negative. The problem with testing is that it really only shows how you were three months ago.

'At the moment, testing is not the answer. As surgeons we have to take responsibility for the well- being of our patients. This is just as if a surgeon had an infected finger. He would not operate. If a surgeon is infected with hepatitis or HIV, he has a moral and ethical responsibility to stop.'

The Department of Health, the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association are broadly agreed on their advice to doctors. This says that doctors with HIV who are involved in 'invasive' procedures such as surgery, when there is opportunity for blood-to-blood contact, should transfer to other duties.

There have now been about six reports in Britain of doctors and other health professionals with HIV who have treated patients. The most recent was a midwife, also in Kent, who delivered 42 babies before her death last month.

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