Beginning in 2014, HIV-infected dentists, doctors, and midwives with undetectable viral loads will be allowed to perform any procedure on patients, according to UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies. The policy change stemmed from the success of modern combination drug therapy, which could reduce HIV levels so that the virus was not transmissible. A working group commissioned in 2007 to study UK rules recommended in 2011 that the government update its policy.
In 1993, the United Kingdom banned HIV-infected doctors, nurses, and dentists from performing any treatments inside patients where the fingertips were not visible. The restriction automatically ended the careers of HIV-infected dentists, and altered the medical practice of HIV-infected surgeons and nurses.
The UK’s new policy would require HIV-infected healthcare workers to register and visit their doctors every three months to ensure their viral load remained undetectable and that they were taking appropriate anti-HIV medications. Davies estimated that 110 National Health Service (NHS) workers currently had HIV, but she noted that others might have avoided testing for fear of losing their careers and livelihoods. Allan Reid, a former dentist who left his profession after a 2007 HIV diagnosis, urged the NHS to support retraining for HIV-infected healthcare workers who had lost their jobs under earlier restrictions.
Davies stated that UK residents should update their attitudes about HIV. Whereas HIV was a “death sentence” in the epidemic’s early days, HIV-infected people on drug treatment could anticipate normal life expectancies and good quality of life. National AIDS Trust spokesperson and advisory group member Deborah Jack noted that the new policy offered an opportunity to increase awareness among people who learned about HIV in the 1980s and younger people who knew little about HIV.
Only four other countries in the world still restrict the practice of HIV-infected health professionals.