SAFER NEEDLES: Demanded In California
"Hundreds of health care workers and union activists rallied at San Francisco General Hospital yesterday to demand protection against deadly needle sticks and to denounce the nation's hospitals and medical clinics for failing to provide safer needles," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The rally was in response to recent series in the Chronicle revealing that thousands of health care providers "have died unnecessarily from needle injuries in the past 20 years," or have contracted "HIV, hepatitis C and other lethal infections every year -- even though needles with simple safety features that could prevent the injuries have been available for at least a decade." The protestors "urged the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a city ordinance banning dangerous syringes and blood-drawing devices." The Chronicle reports that the proposed ordinance "would require all medical facilities owned by or doing business with the city to use safe needle products." It "would affect scores of clinics, hospices and hospitals ... as well as medical wards in city jails and schools." Tom Ammiano, ordinance sponsor, said at the rally, "We are asking the health care industry to stand by its women and men. Needles may be disposable but human lives are not" (Holding/Carlsen, 4/16).
Cost Vs. Safety
The San Francisco Examiner reports that even though needles with simple safety features "have been on the market for several years" and could "reduce the incidence of needle stick infection by 80% to 90%," the devices "have been ignored by hospitals" (Krieger, 4/16). According to the Chronicle, this is because "it is more profitable for manufacturers to sell conventional designs and less costly for medical facilities to buy them." Previously, government watchdogs "ignored the problem," but the articles "provoked" an immediate response from California political leaders. "[P]roviding basic protections for nurses and other health care professionals is the least we can do for those who take care of us when we are ill," said U.S. Representative Pete Stark (D-Fremont). According to the Chronicle, Stark "introduced a bill last October requiring all hospitals that serve Medicare patients to use safer needles." Dr. Julie Gerberding of San Francisco General said the hospital already uses safer needles and "needle sticks have been reduced by 60%" since implementation (Chronicle, 4/16).