• scrub nurses;
  • surgeons;
  • midwives;
  • universal precautions;
  • inoculation injury;
  • guideline adherence

Background.  Mucocutaneous and percutaneous exposure to blood and body fluids (inoculation injury) are major risk factors for occupational acquisition of bloodborne infection in health care professionals. Compliance with prescribed ‘universal precautions’ during exposure-prone procedures has been shown to reduce the risk of acquiring bloodborne viral infection. In addition, reporting such exposures facilitates prophylaxis.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report a study to identify strategies to minimize professionals’ risks of acquiring bloodborne infections during exposure-prone procedures.

Method.  All surgeons, theatre nurses who scrub for surgery and midwives employed in general operating theatres and delivery suites within one UK National Health Service trust (n = 276) were surveyed by postal questionnaire. Data were analysed using univariate and bivariate techniques in SPSS version 10. Content analysis was undertaken on the one open-ended question.

Findings.  The response rate was 72·5% (200/276). Only 1·5% (3/200) of respondents adopted universal precautions for all patients irrespective of whether their bloodborne viral status was known. On average, only half the recommended theatre-specific precautions were always adopted (mean 3·725/7, sd = 1·385). Most respondents (63·3%) admitted making judgements related to nationality, lifestyle or sexual orientation when making decisions about protective clothing. Many respondents (74%, 145/196) reported sustaining an inoculation injury in the 10 years prior to the study. However, under-reporting of injuries was common, and 32·4% (47/145) admitted failing to report injuries. Guideline adherence was influenced by profession, but not by time since qualification.

Conclusions.  The findings suggest that strategies must be developed to improve compliance with universal precautions and reporting guidelines by all health care professionals. The extent of, and reasons for, non-compliance with both local and national guidelines remain relatively unexplored.