First, do no harm: the obligation to know your blood borne virus status

  • TurkAlert
  • Published 16.09.2020

All health professionals practising in Australia have an obligation to minimise the risk of transmission of blood borne viruses, namely HIV, HBV and HCV1 by declaring their blood borne virus status. The obligation derives from Commonwealth Government policies relating to the performance of exposure prone procedures2.   

The registration process requires health professionals to declare the accuracy of the information they have provided, including whether or not they have an impairment. Providing false information or dishonestly completing the form is serious misconduct and can lead to disciplinary action3.  

The process of registration and registration renewal is a critical part of the national regulatory scheme. It is a key element of a process designed to ensure the maintenance of high standards of care and protecting the public, including from the transmission of blood borne viruses.  

Scope of practice

Health professionals, namely medical and dental practitioners, whose scope of practice includes performing exposure prone procedures, are obliged to know whether or not they are positive for HIV, HBV or HCV4.  A positive declaration leads to the need for ongoing medical supervision and treatment but generally does not adversely affect the career of the health professional.  It also does not necessarily follow that the health professional is considered to be impaired within the meaning of the National Law5

For more than a decade, dental practitioners have been obliged to know and declare their blood borne virus status.  This is because most activities engaged in by a dental practitioner, other than those engaged in full time research or other non-clinical work, is an exposure prone procedure.  Although confronting, the obligation on a health professional to know their blood borne virus status is consistent with the maxim ‘first, do no harm’. It has been found not to be discriminatory, even where a blood borne virus leads to the loss of a health professional’s career6

Implications

Accurately completing the renewal process each year necessitates health professionals being familiar with the Commonwealth Guidelines, the guidelines published by their National Board and understanding their scope of practice.

The Commonwealth Guidelines were developed by the Centre for Communicable Diseases Network.  If you have a blood borne virus and your scope of practice includes exposure prone procedures, you must comply with the Guidelines.  This usually means ensuring you are under the care of a practitioner for your blood borne virus and can require you to cease performing exposure prone procedures.

The CDNA’s guidelines can be accessed here:

If you would like assistance understanding the registration process and the application of the CDNA’s guidelines, please contact us.

1 Guidelines: Registered health practitioners and students in relation to blood-borne viruses
2 Australian National Guidelines for the Management of Healthcare Workers Living with Blood Borne Viruses and Healthcare Workers who Perform Exposure Prone Procedures at Risk of Exposure to Blood Borne Viruses
3 See for eg, Medical Board v Putha [2014] QCAT 159; Chiropractic Board of Australia v Northeast [2019] VCAT 1279
4 Including students
5 Guidelines: Registered health practitioners and students in relation to blood-borne viruses, [8.1]
6 M v Dental Board of Queensland [2011] QCAT 373 (10 August 2011)


Louise Nixon

Partner

P: 07 3212 6716

Email Louise