New laws will be introduced forcing anyone who bites, scratches or spits on frontline workers to undergo a mandatory blood test, enabling them to immediately learn if they have been exposed to a bloodborne virus.
The Berejiklian government will introduce the legislation in February in a move to lessen anxiety for affected workers who currently have to wait up to six months to be cleared of dangerous diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
It will allow authorities to take blood from anyone who assaults police officers, paramedics, nurses and volunteers from organisations such as the Rural Fire Service, State Emergency Service and NSW Fire and Rescue.
Police Minister David Elliott said the reforms were a “mental health policy as much as a medical policy”.
“This is to reduce the anxiety of those frontline workers who currently have had to wait for six months,” he said.
On average, 450 NSW police officers are exposed to bodily fluids each year — about 60 are involved in biting or needle incidents that would warrant testing.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman acknowledged blood tests may be regarded as “invasive” but said the rights of offenders who expose workers to the risk of disease are “trumped by those who are attacked”.
He said a blood test can be compelled when there is a “reasonable belief an attack has occurred and there is a risk of transmission”.
“There’s an offence under the Public Health Act of not taking reasonable care to prevent transmission of the virus, I think there’s a maximum penalty of six months but it can also amount to intentionally or recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm where the penalty is up to 14 years imprisonment,” Mr Speakman said.
Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts said the legislation was about sending a “clear message” to frontline workers that they had the full support of the state government.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon revealed he had to be tested after being bitten during an arrest.
“I was bitten, went to the hospital where I was obviously spoken to by a doctor … I was then given a test and had to wait for the results to come through,” he said.
“Obviously it’s quite a nervous wait. Whether or not you know the risk, whether or not there is a risk, it’s certainly a lengthy period of time before you find out.”
Nicole Jess from the Public Service Association said during her 32-years in the job she had been bitten, punched and even had faeces and bodily fluids thrown at her.
“I’ve stopped inmates from self-harming and had blood all over me in doing that,” she said.
“This bill is going to help many officers in dealing with the PTSD that comes from these incidences.”
The reforms have also been supported by Labor which has vowed to work with the government to get the “best outcome” for frontline workers.
“After more than two long years of campaigning from emergency service workers and their unions, the Government has finally come to the table to give them the peace of mind they deserve,” opposition police spokeswoman Lynda Voltz said.
But Independent MP Alex Greenwich said the proposed laws risked ostracising the LGBTI community and would allow police to order a test even when there is no medical evidence transmission is possible.