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Attitude of UK nurses to needlestick injury


Clinical bottom line

Nurses in one English hospital underestimate their occupational risk and overlook safety practices


C Leliopoulou et al. Nurses failure to appreciate risks of infection due to needle stick accidents: a hospital based survey. Journal of Hospital Infection 1999 42: 53-59.


The study was conducted in a single hospital in England. Nurses were asked to complete a 20-item questionnaire on perceived susceptibility, seriousness, benefits of action, barriers to action and health motivation concerning needlestick injury. Nurses working in ITU, haemodialysis, haematology and a neonatal surgical unit were considered to be at high risk of needlestick, while those in ENT and othopaedics were considered to be at low risk.

Of 290 questionnaires distributed, 144 were completed; 85 were from high risk nurses and 48 were from low risk nurses. Some were incomplete.


Only a small proportion (10% high risk, 21% low risk) considered their personal risk of infection was low or absent. Only about 10% of all the nurses thought they had more risk than other professional groups, about 70% considering that the risk was about equal.

Most nurses thought that the risk of infection from a needlestick injury was unlikely or very remote (Table 1).

Table 1: Awareness of risk of infection from needlestick injury


High risk (%)

Low risk (%)

Very remote









Very likely






When asked to respond to the question "Resheathing needles between use can help provide protection against infection" , 80% of nurses disagreed, 10% agreed and 10% did not know. In both groups, one in 10 nurses thought that special precautions for infection control were only necessary of patients had full blown symptoms of HIV or HBV.


Nurses in one English hospital underestimate their occupational risk and overlook safety practices. The results show a considerable lack of understanding of universal precautions among nurses. Given the high levels of hospital acquired infection in most English hospitals (about one patient in 10 affected), perhaps these results are not surprising. Considerable effort is needed to educate nurses and probably other staff about the dangers of infection both to themselves and to patients.