A THREE-year-old boy faces an agonising wait to see if he has HIV after he stepped on a used needle on an award-winning beach.
The boy was playing on Sandhaven Beach, South Shields, with his family on Saturday afternoon when the hypodermic needle – used by drug addicts –became embedded into the side of his right foot.
The youngster was rushed to South Tyneside District Hospital for treatment and tests.
His 27-year-old mother and her partner were told by doctors they must wait at least three months for HIV blood tests to come back.
The boy had also started a course of regular Hepatitis B injections, which will last for a year.
His family hit out at the person who left the needle in the sand, but they are also angry that no lifeguards were on duty over the weekend, and criticised South Tyneside Council for not cleaning the beach well enough.
The council has a contract with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to supply lifeguards on the borough's beaches over a 14-week summer season. However, this does not start until Saturday.
The boy's 53-year-old grandmother, from South Shields, said: "We were playing on the beach when he started screaming.
"Then we saw the needle in his foot. We felt horror. That needle could have been used for anything. But when it happened, there was no one there to help.
"I realise the council can't clean up everything and a lot of blame should lie with the person responsible for dropping it.
"But it's a disgrace that, despite it being the hottest weekend of the year, the council had no one cleaning up the beach, and had no lifeguards on duty."
This weekend saw hundreds of sun-seekers flock to Sandhaven Beach, which has been awarded the Blue Flag and Quality Coast Awards for its cleanliness, safety and facilities.
But as the Gazette reported yesterday, council bosses admitted their cleaning operation was "caught out" by the influx of day trippers and the amount of litter strewn across the sands and walkways.
A council spokesman said: "We are very sorry to hear about this and our thoughts are with the boy and his family.
"It is of great concern that anyone could think it acceptable to discard needles on the beach.
"Although we do all we can to keep the beach clean, we cannot gain access with specialist beach cleaning machinery until the crowds have subsided.
"We contract the RNLI to provide lifeguard patrols and first-aid services at our beaches and, in common with other seaside resorts, these operate throughout the 14-week summer season which begins on Saturday."
The seven-day-a-week lifeguard service is partially funded by the local authority, who pay the lifeguards' wages.
The RNLI provides all training costs and equipment through charitable donations, which equates to 1,000 per lifeguard, per season.
A total of 23 lifeguards will monitor the beaches of South Shields and Sunderland.
* 90 per cent of Gazette readers taking part in yesterday's online vote thought the penalty for dropping litter should be raised from the current 50 fine.