HIV fears for dental patients

Last updated 12:37 17/01/2014

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Almost 1000 patients treated by a Sydney dentist over the past decade may have been exposed to HIV and other infectious diseases because medical equipment was not properly sterilised.

Patient advocates say the case raises ''deeply concerning'' questions about patient safety in dental clinics and the quality of medical regulation.

A public health investigation of two dental practices operated by Nuha Kamil at 255 Castlereagh Street in the city and Alfred Street, North Sydney, has found evidence of poor infection control, including problems with the cleaning and sterilisation of reusable dental instruments used at the surgeries.

About 980 patients received a letter from the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District on January 6 advising them there was a ''low risk'' they had been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and C if they ''underwent certain dental procedures'' at the clinics between August 2002 and August 2013. A spokesman for NSW Health said patients received the letter if they had ''any procedure where a sharp instrument was placed in their mouth''.

Consumers Health Forum spokesman Mark Metherell said evidence Dr Kamil had failed to follow standard sterilising procedures for more than 10 years raised ''deeply disturbing questions about failure of oversight in a crucial public health matter''.

He said the response of health authorities - alerting potentially affected patients by letter - was a cause for concern, given many would have changed addresses.

''While it may be that a public announcement of this episode would create public anxiety, there will be many patients who could be affected who may only learn of their potentially infected status as a result of publicity,'' he said.

NSW Health said while some patients may have been exposed to a blood-borne virus, the overall risk to patients was very low.

Only 12 people have contacted the public health unit since the letter was sent and investigations are still being made to confirm whether any patients have contracted HIV or hepatitis.

''NSW Health has looked at which procedures each individual patient had, and has made direct contact with all patients thought to be at any risk,'' a NSW Health spokesman said. ''We recommend that they attend their local general practitioner for precautionary screening for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV infection.''

The NSW Health Blood-Borne Viruses Advisory Panel, recommended NSW Health contact the patients directly, as it was the ''most effective'' way of informing those people potentially affected.

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The investigation was launched after the NSW Dental Council and the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission received complaints about Dr Kamil.

Dr Kamil is still registered to practice but only under conditions set by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, which include not treating patients unless a dental nurse or assistant with infection control training and experience is present.

A spokesman for the Dental Council said information about individual practitioners could not be given out because of confidentiality laws.

Dr Kamil declined to comment.

- FFX Aus

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