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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 00:01 GMT
'My sister's injury inspired my design'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Sarah Barsam and son Aron
Sarah was pregnant when she got injured
When Sarah Barsam stabbed herself accidentally with a discarded needle she was deeply worried.

A specialist registrar in haematology, she was working at a London hospital when the accident happened.

Sarah, then six months pregnant, had an agonising six week wait before doctors gave her the all-clear.

"I had finished putting in a femoral line [large cannula into the vein in the groin] on a patient with sickle cell disease," she said.

Worrying wait

"The sharps bin [used for discarded blades and needles] which was handed to me was too full.

"But since I had so many sharps in my vicinity, all opened, used and exposed, I was keen to get rid of them.

Michael Korn
It was crazy to see that she had to have all the tests and to be worried about catching a disease from the patients she was treating
Michael Korn

"I did not properly check how empty the bin was and discarded a large sharp into a reasonably full bin.

"It flew right back out and went deep into the fleshy part of my thumb.

"I was particularly concerned because I was pregnant.

"The patient was fairly high risk for blood borne viruses and I was nervous until the results came back - thankfully, all negative.

"I think that Hepatitis C and HIV were my biggest concerns."

Sarah is not alone. There are an estimated 100,000 needle stick injuries reported in the UK every year.

It is now the second most common injury, after back problems, among health care workers.

So when Sarah's brother, student Michael Korn, was asked to come up with an design for a project he did not have to look far for inspiration.

"It was crazy to see that Sarah had to have all the tests and to be worried about catching a disease from the patients she was treating," he said.

Redesigning trays

Michael noticed that the paper-pulp trays being used to carry the needles were "archaic" and not fit for purpose.

So he set to work designing a new tray, which can also carry a sheathed needle safely.

StickSafe design
Tray incorporates a sheathed needle to prevent injury
Wider and deeper than the old design so more can be carried

His design, which has won a number of international awards, is ready to go into clinical trials.

During his research Michael, a student at the Royal College of Art, discovered that doctors had previously been reluctant to use new needle designs - often finding them too complicated, and preferring to stick to what they knew.

The key to his new design was that it could be safely used with one hand.

"The problem is that they are walking from the tray to the bin with an exposed needle so I wanted to make it so the needle was not exposed and also so it was separated from the syringe."

Sarah is convinced her brother's design could be a boon for doctors.

"There does not exist an easy to use, cheap, disposable and effective tray like my brother's" she said.

"It will be essential and really will prevent injuries that are otherwise so difficult to avoid."

'Safer design'

Rajesh Aggarawal, clinical lecturer in surgery at Imperial advised Michael. He believes the device, called the StickSafe, could change current practice for the better.

It is very easy to drop the tray or bump into someone and that can cause unnecessary injury
Rajesh Aggarawal

"The current design is archaic, but is very simple and very cheap and no-one has really thought about how to improve it," he said.

"The problem is that if you are walking across a busy ward crowded with patients and staff it is very easy to drop the tray or bump into someone and that can cause unnecessary injury."

Dr Aggarawal said the beauty of Michael's design was that while it was a significant improvement, it did not require any re-training to use.

Dr Syed Jafri, a specialist registrar at the Hammersmith Hospital, agreed Michael's design is a simple solution to a problem that has plagued the NHS for decades.

"I think the device itself is a really novel approach towards needle stick injury, which is a global problem there is no doubt about it.

"Within the British health sector on a daily basis people are getting stabbed.

"Here you have something which can't fail because is so damned simple.

"It takes about 10 seconds to train someone to use it."

Art students aim to save lives
05 Oct 07 |  Health
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19 Aug 06 |  Health
Postal worker stabbed by needle
27 Jul 07 |  Hereford/Worcs

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