BMA guidance

Needlestick injuries and blood-borne viruses: testing adults who lack capacity

Guidance on what to do in situations where the patient lacks the capacity to consent to testing for blood-borne viruses, when a health professional has sustained needlestick injury.

Location: Scotland Northern Ireland Wales
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Wednesday 26 April 2023
Topics: Ethics
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Health professionals who sustain a needlestick injury in the course of their duties are at risk of contracting a serious blood-borne virus. 


What you'll get from the guide

  • What to do if the patient lacks capacity.
  • What to do if the patient is not expected to regain capacity.
  • How to assess whether testing the patient would be lawful and appropriate.


How to use the guide

As part of their duty of care to the health professionals they employ, we strongly encourage all employers of healthcare staff to develop their own protocols based on this guidance. It should state that in these cases, where it is not possible to seek consent, it will usually be appropriate to test the source patient.

  • Why testing is important
  • Patients who are expected to regain capacity within a short space of time
  • Adults who lack capacity to consent in England and Wales
  • Adults who lack capacity to consent in Northern Ireland
  • Adults who lack capacity to consent in Scotland
  • Use of existing samples
  • Informing the patient
  • Recording information on the medical record
  • References