‘Safer Needles’ Not In Use in Most U.S. Hospitals
U.S. hospitals may not be using the "safest" needles to protect physicians, nurses and other health care workers from the "dangers" conventional needles may pose when contaminated with viruses, last night's "60 Minutes" reports. In the United States, an estimated 600,000 needlestick accidents occur every year. Health care workers in 11 states have filed class action lawsuits against Becton, Dickinson and Company, the world's largest needle manufacturer, claiming that they were accidentally stuck by BD's needles, which the workers said are "defectively designed." A "safer needle" retracts into the barrel after the needle has been used, such as the one made by BD competitor Retractable Technologies, Inc. Conventional needles, often with "no safety mechanisms at all," still account for about 85% of the national market. Former President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Karen Daley contracted HIV and hepatitis C through an accidental stick from a conventional BD needle two years ago. Daley said, "It doesn't make sense that that's how we're doing business in this day and age. When we have the technology available, we should be making it available to the people who provide the care. It shouldn't be part of what you worry about when you go to work on a daily basis."
Many purchasing agents at U.S. hospitals will not consider retractable needles because they are "committed to long term contracts for most items they buy, including needles," and in exchange for price discounts, hospitals agree to buy most of their needles from BD. Tom Shaw, the designer of the retractable needle, said, "The monopolistic people who are in control of the buying at American hospitals went out there and blocked it, and did everything they could to drive us into bankruptcy." Shaw's sales staff cannot "even show" the retractable needles at some hospitals. Shaw played a recorded message from a hospital that stated, "I'm being informed by them (hospital management) that we cannot even look at your product under the terms of our agreement with this buying contract ... so I'm very sorry." Shaw filed a lawsuit against BD alleging restraint of trade. BD answered that "hospitals are free to buy any needles they wish," and the company pointed out that the U.S. Justice Department reviewed some of Retractable's allegations and decided to take no action.
ECRI, an independent, not-for-profit group called the "consumer reports of the medical device industry," gave retractable needles a higher ranking than BD's needles that have safety devices. "Independent evaluators" at ECRI gave BD's "best-selling safety syringe" an "unacceptable" rating because it "does not adequately protect against accidents," according to "60 Minutes." Another BD safety needle had a better rating, but "not as high as its competitors." BD may take a conventional product and "put a sheath under it" or "add a cylinder to cover the needle" instead of "really looking at the design needs," BD critics claimed. Shaw said that BD doesn't redesign their products because it would be "too expensive," adding, "They'd have to re-do all their tooling, all their molding, and all their assembly equipment. They had a tremendous capital investment. If there's a new technology, they don't have the market in a new technology."
Although safer needles would cost hospitals at least $0.25 each, Daley said hospitals "save money in the long run" because health care workers who are accidentally stuck require testing for six months to determine if they are infected, costing between $2,000 and $3,000. One health care worker infected with one virus from an accidental needlestick will cost $500,000 to one million dollars to treat, "60 Minutes" reports. In November, the nation's largest health care worker's union, Service Employees International Union, asked California state officials to investigate the BD safety needle, because "on numerous occasions, at various Kaiser Permanente facilities, the safety feature has fallen off." BD, in a letter to "60 Minutes," responded that their blood-drawing needle in use at Kaiser "is safe" and is "one of the most successful safety-engineered products ever introduced." However, the consumer group Public Citizen and SEIU recently demanded that the FDA ban certain "unsafe needle products" (CBS, "60 Minutes," 2/25).