Written Answers. - HIV Virus.

Willie Penrose

Question:

112 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the inadequacy of his Department's policy in relation to healthcare workers who are HIV positive, he will establish an independent expert review committee to examine this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1959/99]

From the time of the emergence of the HIV virus as a potential threat to the health of healthcare workers, the Department of Health and Children, health service employers and the health professions have taken all possible and necessary measures to minimise the risk of infection. These measures have been taken to protect the health of patients and healthcare workers.

In 1995 the Minister for Health established an advisory group on the transmission of infectious diseases in the healthcare setting. The purpose of the group was to advise the Minister for Health and Children regarding the prevention of transmission of infectious diseases in the healthcare setting. The group's report was published in January 1997. It stated a general set of principles which should underpin the approach to the protection of patients and healthcare workers in relation to blood-borne viruses. This group was asked to concentrate on the hepatitis B virus and did not make specific recommendations regarding the HIV and hepatitis C viruses.

On 17 December 1996, the Minister for Health announced the establishment of a new group to report on the further measures which need to be taken in relation to a range of issues not addressed by the advisory group and which will also function as a central resource for the foreseeable future. The group was asked to ensure that there was an integrated and complementary approach to dealing with the service, personnel, ethical and legal matters arising from healthcare workers and patients in relation to infectious diseases. The group completed a draft report in December 1997 which was circulated to interested parties for their observations. The group reviewed the observations received and took account of further scientific developments. The group has recently completed this assignment and its report will be published in February. As this group's original terms of reference envisaged that it would remain available as a source of advice and expertise, I do not see any need for a further committee.

I am satisfied that all necessary steps were taken to protect both healthcare workers and patients in the small number of instances where a staff member was found to have been infected by the HIV virus.