Thousands warned over Hepatitis C threat


They have been advised to have blood tests after a link was found between two patients with the virus and the long-serving medic.

The worker was employed by NHS Lanarkshire for 26 years, between 1982 and 2008.

The worker, whose name has not been disclosed, was banned from carrying out operations after being diagnosed but health bosses at the time felt it was “not appropriate” to inform former patients.

However, NHS Lanarkshire yesterday announced that 8,383 people are being contacted after the two ex-patients were found to be infected with the virus.

The first case came to light last year when a patient who had a surgical procedure carried out by the NHS employee, was referred for hepatitis C treatment.

An investigation found it probable that the patient was infected during the operation. Subsequent inquiries identified another patient in Lanarkshire with hepatitis C, also likely to have contracted the virus during surgery.

Patients are now being sent a letter which includes information about the virus and how to be tested.

Dr Iain Wallace, medical director of NHS Lanarkshire, said: “We are very sorry for any concerns experienced as a result of the situation and can reassure people that the likelihood of acquiring the virus from a surgical procedure carried out by the healthcare worker is low.”

The medic worked at various hospitals across Lanarkshire but primarily at Wishaw General Hospital and the former Law Hospital in Carluke. The individual was diagnosed in January 2008 during a routine health test but it is not known when the virus was acquired.

Experts believe the virus could have been transferred to patients when the medic was cut by surgical equipment or a sharp piece of bone.

A full investigation was carried out at the time of diagnosis and the findings were presented to the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Bloodborne Viruses (UKAP). But UKAP decided that there was no reason to notify former patients.

Its chairman, Professor David Goldberg, yesterday defended that decision, insisting it was “very reasonable” on the available evidence.

He explained: “UK policy is that only if there’s evidence of transmission of infection having occurred or likely transmission having occurred will patients be notified.

“I think there are risks of causing undue anxiety among patients where the risk is negligble. You just don’t want to do that.”

Prof Goldberg claimed there was less than a one-in-1,000 chance of the at-risk patients being infected.

The majority of patients contacted are in Lanarkshire but there are hundreds of others across Scotland.

A further 336 in England have been sent letters, 11 in Wales and five in Northern Ireland.

Asked whether the health board is facing legal action in relation to the development, Dr Wallace: “I’m not aware of any.” Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, said she was satisfied everything had been done correctly.

Hepatitus C has no symptoms in most cases but if untreated can lead to chronic liver disease.