Glasgow & West Scotland

Hepatitis C alert for 8,000 UK surgical patients

Hepatitis C virus Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact

More than 8,000 people who were treated by a surgeon diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2008 are being offered blood screening for the infection.

Health officials ordered the move after finding it was probable that two former patients had been infected during a procedure carried out by the medic.

Of the 8,383 patients being contacted, 8,031 are in Scotland, with 7,311 of those from Lanarkshire.

There are 336 in England, 11 patients in Wales and five in Northern Ireland.

NHS Lanarkshire said the former surgeon, who has not been identified, did not return to clinical practice after testing positive in 2008.

Scottish health board areas affected

  • Ayrshire and Arran - 95
  • Borders - 21
  • Dumfries and Galloway - 19
  • Fife - 45
  • Forth Valley - 47
  • Greater Glasgow and Clyde - 208
  • Grampian - 49
  • Highland - 64
  • Lanarkshire - 7,311
  • Lothian - 110
  • Island Boards (Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles) - 6
  • Tayside - 53

The health board said that following diagnosis a "detailed investigation" had been carried out and the findings submitted to the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood Borne Viruses (UKAP).

NHS Lanarkshire said that "based on the evidence available at that time, the UK Advisory Panel advised that a patient notification exercise was not indicated".

That position changed when NHS Lanarkshire was made aware in 2015 of a patient referred for treatment for hepatitis C who had a surgical procedure carried out by the healthcare worker.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the patient, and one other, were probably infected during a surgical procedure carried out by the medic.

Image copyright NHS Lanarkshire
Image caption The medic spent time at Wishaw General Hospital

After NHS Lanarkshire submitted its findings to UKAP, the national body endorsed the health board's proposal to carry out a patient notification exercise.

UKAP chairman Professor David Goldberg defended the decision not to notify patients in 2008, saying there was no evidence then that any patient had been infected by the doctor.

He said: "I think it's a very reasonable decision. It wasn't the wrong decision based on the evidence we had at the time."

The surgeon concerned was based at hospitals across Lanarkshire but was primarily at Wishaw General Hospital and the former Law Hospital.

The medic also spent time at the William Harvey Hospital in East Kent between January and April 2006 and was working predominantly in England before 1982.

Low risk

NHS Lanarkshire said it was now working with health boards across the UK to notify former patients who had undergone surgical procedures in which the medic was involved.

It said they would be offered screening for hepatitis but the risk was very low.

Dr Iain Wallace, medical director at NHS Lanarkshire, said: "We know that some people receiving the letter may be anxious about what this means for them. We have apologised to patients for any concern that may be caused by this situation.

"We are committed to supporting patients and are ensuring they have every opportunity to get information about hepatitis C, the testing process and the situation in general.

"We are also putting on additional clinics locally to make it as straightforward and convenient as possible for people to get tested."

Leon Wylie, lead officer of Hepatitis Scotland, said it was "very unfortunate" that the current situation had arisen.

"It is understandable many patients who are contacted to come forward for testing will be very worried by this as, although the risk is low, some transmissions from worker to patients have probably occurred," he said.

"The key point we want to highlight for those affected is that hepatitis C is now easily treatable and that there is an over 90% cure rate in most cases.

"To get treated first you need to know if you have the virus so accepting the offer of a test is vitally important."

What is hepatitis C?

It is a virus which can lead to inflammation of the liver.

In most cases, it does not have any symptoms and so most people do not realise they have it.

If untreated, the infection can cause chronic liver disease and, very rarely, cancer of the liver.

Hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and very rarely through sexual intercourse.

The most common route of transmission in the UK is intravenous drug use. It cannot be transmitted through social contact, kissing or sharing food and drink.

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