Hundreds of students could be infected with HIV after NHS mix up

This article was originally published on The National Student in 2014

Hundreds of students at the University of Derby have been contacted and told to get blood tests after an NHS mix up left them at risk of hepatitis and HIV.

606 students who had blood tests or vaccinations at the university between September 2005 and October 2013 have received letters advising them to contact their GP or a hospital for a blood test.

Although needles were not reused, syringe barrels that they were attached to were reused during the procedures.

Since blood tests are usually administered one on one, the blunder was only spotted after a co-worker of the heathcare worker responsible noticed unsafe practises and reported their concerns.

An investigation has now been opened by NHS England, and the heathcare worker in question, a contractor, has been suspended.

A helpline has been set up for students seeking further information — although there have been reports that it has been of little help to those seeking reassurance:

Those at risk were on courses including MA Art Therapy, MA Drama Therapy, MSc Occupational Therapy, BSc Occupational Therapy, BSc Diagnostic Radiography, BSc Nursing (adult and mental health), and Adv Dip in Nurse Studies (adult and mental health).

24-year-old nurse Alix Brookes told the Derby Telegraph that she is “disgusted because this university taught me to follow correct policies and procedures but their own staff did not. I feel really angry.”

She adds that “Most of the stuff I had done blood-test-wise was near the start of my course. That was six years ago. Why are we only being told now?”

NHS England Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire’s Medical Director Dr Doug Black has stressed that the risk of infection is extremely low.

Dr Black says: “This investigation has taken place as it is understood that, whilst syringe needles were always changed between patients, the syringe barrels to which the needles attach were being reused in the administration of vaccinations. This also occurred during blood taking, where a single use holder for a blood collection tube was reused but needles changed.

“Therefore there is an extremely low possibility these errors may have put people at risk of infection from hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.

“With this in mind, as a precaution, we have reviewed all available university health records and the 606 people identified have all been contacted and invited to attend a blood test at their local hospital or via their GP.

“We are extremely sorry for the undoubted worry and concern people we are contacting may feel on receiving this news.”

Meanwhile, students and graduates have taken to twitter to express their disgust at the situation:

Vice Chancellor of the University of Derby, Professor John Coyne, called the incident “deeply regrettable” and has apologised “for the potential distress this may cause to the people involved.”

He added: “We are working closely with NHS England and Public Health England to provide support and assistance to those people who may be affected by this issue and will continue to do so tirelessly in the coming weeks to ensure that all appropriate support is available and provided.”

Students or former students worried that they might be at risk should contact the helpline on 03330 142479.