Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, told the Commons yesterday that existing guidelines for healthcare workers with HIV were also under review. She rejected calls for compulsory testing for medical staff.
Leaders of the doctors', dentists', and nurses' professional bodies are to meet Dr Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, to discuss what can be done to ensure that people who think they are infected, or believe they have been at risk of contracting the Aids virus, seek medical advice. Anything less would be a 'serious breach of professional practice', Mrs Bottomley said.
The new guidelines and the review follow two cases in a week involving HIV positive doctors. The Mid-Glamorgan Health Authority has been accused of a cover-up after failing to tell the public that a doctor who had worked in several hospitals in south Wales died of Aids last October. A helpline opened on Wednesday has received almost 400 calls from people who may have been treated by Dr Peter Clayton, a trainee GP from Bridgend.
By contrast, the Medway Health Authority went public as soon as it learned that Terence Shuttleworth, a gynaecologist, who treated 17,000 women over 10 years, carried the virus.
Mrs Bottomley, stressed the 'overriding ethical duty' of infected health workers to the public. 'It is vital that guidance is scrupulously followed, and it is this point which I wish to see impressed upon the (professional) bodies concerned,' she said.
But she ruled out routine testing. She said the Expert Advisory Group on Aids, which met on Tuesday, had reconfirmed its advice that it was not justified.
If the group's advice changed and there appeared to be 'proven merit' in screening healthcare workers, Mrs Bottomley said she would have 'no difficulty' with that. But she emphasised that routine testing could drive the problem 'underground'.