Letter: Risks to doctors in HIV panic

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with pleasure your leading article 'Ignorance and fear of HIV' (9 March), finding its common sense a stark contrast with the hysteria displayed elsewhere in the media. Until, that is, I reached the last two paragraphs. The risk to patients from an infected surgeon, as you point out, is near to nil, and so there would seem to be no basis for requiring any notification, except to allow employing health authorities and ministers to escape any criticism by the press.

The General Medical Council already has a very effective 'Sick Doctor' scheme, which both protects the patient from unsafe practice and allows the doctor the benefits of confidential treatment, and it is sufficient in these cases. For no other group would compulsory notification of such illness to an employer be tolerated: to demand it here is only to acquiesce to the ignorance and fear which you earlier condemn.

Current guidelines may already be failing to encourage the reporting of possible accidental infection of healthcare workers by patients and vice versa; they serve to protect the employer from criticism more than the patient from infection, and protect the staff not at all.

So long as HIV infection is seen as an opportunity for a witch hunt by the tabloid press, and in the absence of compassion and education, this disease will increase its spread by the usual route.

Denying a few unlucky doctors the rights they defend for everyone else will not hinder the virus at all.

Yours sincerely,

G. T. FRESHWATER

Lerwick, Shetland

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