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EU backs down on mercury sphygmos ban

The European Parliament has backed down from banning mercury sphygmomanometers for health professionals following fears the move could jeopardise patient safety.

But mercury thermometers will still be outlawed under plans to expand a phase-out of mercury devices to those used in healthcare.

Subject to formal approval, the EU directive means there will be a total ban on mercury thermometers, and a ban on the sale of other mercury instruments to the public. But after concerns were raised by the UK drug regulator over the accuracy of available alternatives to mercury sphygmos, MEPs agreed the ban would not apply to GPs or other professionals.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency committee on blood pressure monitoring in clinical practice warned in 2005 that oscillometric devices were often unsuitable for the diagnosis of hypertension.And its researchers have found aneroid devices are often out by 3mmHg or more.

Dr Peter McCartney, a Bristol GP and member of the blood pressure monitoring committee, said: 'In certain circumstances electronic machines are not reliable. Mercury machines are more reliable, easier to calibrate and can be used to calibrate other machines.'

But the directive is part of a broad strategy on mercury, which is highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and wildlife.Dr McCartney said: 'I can see that the mercury sphygmo's days are numbered.'

EU has not banned mercury sphygmos, but does still plan to phase them out Mercury shygmomanometer

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