HIV sufferers could soon be able to work as surgeons or dentists.
The Department of Health wants to lift the current ban because it claims any risk to patients is ‘very low’.
Health workers who are HIV positive are banned from performing most surgery or dental treatment in case they cut themselves with their instruments and infect patients with their blood.
They can become GPs, hospital doctors, nurses or midwives and carry out nearly all day-to-day tasks, including giving injections, which are considered low risk.
But the Department of Health wants to lift the ban because it says the chance of a health worker infecting a patient is ‘negligible’.
It has undertaken research suggesting the risk of a patient catching HIV from their doctor, dentist or surgeon is less than one in five million, similar to that of being killed by lightning.
Officials say the risk can be further reduced by ensuring any infected member of staff takes medication to reduce their virus count, which means it cannot easily be passed on.
There are 110 frontline workers in the NHS with HIV who would be affected by the rule change.
Since 2006 all members of staff who deal with patients have had to undergo compulsory blood tests to check whether they have the virus.
The Government says there have so far been no recorded cases of patients in Britain catching HIV from a healthcare worker, although it has happened abroad.
In the US a dentist with HIV infected six patients, while a gynaecologist in Spain passed on the illness to one woman. And in France a nurse is known to have passed on the virus to one patient and an orthopaedic surgeon infected another.
The Department of Health launched a consultation yesterday on its proposals to lift the ban and in the next few weeks will gather feedback from organisations and the public.
Under the proposals, HIV-infected health workers would have to be given ‘combination antiretroviral drug therapy’ to reduce the virus count so it could not be transmitted. They would also have to undergo tests to check the virus count was low before they could perform surgery and other procedures.