Press release

UK-wide hepatitis C look back exercise commences

PHE is aware that a healthcare worker who had worked in obstetrics and gynaecology has been diagnosed with hepatitis C infection.

It has recently come to light that the healthcare worker is known to have transmitted the virus to 2 patients while working at a hospital in Wales from 1984 until the worker ceased clinical practice in 2002.

A ‘lookback’ patient notification exercise involving the review at least 3,000 former hospital patients’ notes and records from the Caerphilly District Miners Hospital has been announced by the Aneurin Bevan Health Board today. Around 200 former hospital patients from 2 other hospitals in Wales where the healthcare worker practised for a short time are also being contacted.

Those patients identified as exposed or possibly exposed to hepatitis C are being sent individual letters and asked to call a special confidential helpline, inviting them to attend a hospital clinic or, if they have moved away from the area, their GP for a blood test. Effective treatments are available for hepatitis C and further information and advice will also be provided to anyone who needs it.

There is only a small chance that a patient might acquire hepatitis C virus infection through surgical contact with an infected healthcare worker. The risk is very low as this can only occur if the healthcare worker is infectious and leads or assists in an operation or procedure on the patient. However, even in such circumstances transmission is very rare.

The healthcare worker also worked at other hospitals across the UK prior to working in Wales, including 11 hospitals † in England between 1975 and 1983. Similar lookback exercises are taking place in parallel across all the hospitals in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland where the healthcare worker practised.

Less than 400 women in England have so far been identified as having definitely or possibly had operations conducted by the affected healthcare worker. They will be contacted directly by letter inviting them to call a confidential helpline, to discuss whether they would like to have a blood test arranged at their GP practice.

As it has been almost 30 years since the individual worked in hospitals in England, records of women who may be at risk are in some cases incomplete, for example if the hospital has been renamed or patients have moved around the country.

In England, the helpline and support service (0800 121 4400) will also be in place from Thursday 12 September, for any woman who is concerned because they had an obstetric or gynaecological operation, or they gave birth, at one of the 11 hospitals during the specified periods.

Dr Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, said:

We have worked hard to identify women in England who might have been at risk of contracting infection with hepatitis C from this healthcare worker and are contacting them to offer advice and a blood test for hepatitis C, should they wish to have one. I want to emphasise that the risk of infection is very small and that we are offering them testing purely as a precaution.

Around 1 in 250 adults in England have chronic hepatitis C infection and it does not automatically lead to health problems. Treatment can help clear the infection in up to 80% cases, which is why it’s important to identify anyone who may be at risk of having been infected so treatment can be started if necessary.

Like most people who are infected with hepatitis C, the healthcare worker had no symptoms and was unaware of the infection until after they retired. As soon as the risk of infection was recognised, and a transmission was confirmed, a process of tracing their occupational history began.

Since 2007, all healthcare workers who are new to the NHS are tested for hepatitis C by their employing Trust, including anyone performing certain procedures (known as exposure prone procedures). Existing NHS healthcare workers performing exposure prone procedures for the first time are also tested for hepatitis C.

Notes to Editors

†Hospitals and dates where the healthcare worker practiced obstetrics and gynaecology in the UK.

England

  • Grimsby General Hospital (3 Sept 1975 to 6 March 1978) – now Diana Princess of Wales Hospital

  • Burnley General Hospital (5 to 30 April 1978)

  • Bedford Hospital (3 July to 6 August 1978 and 4 to 19 November 1978)

  • City General Hospital, Carlisle (31 Aug to 17 Sep 1978 and 12 April to 2 May 1982) – now Cumberland Infirmary

  • Herts and Essex Hospital (4 December 1978 to 10 January 1979)

  • All Saints Hospital, Kent (5 to 16 November 1979) – now Medway Maritime Hospital

  • Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport (20 July to 2 November 1981)

  • Doncaster Gate Hospital, Rotherham (23 July to 18 August 1982) – now Rotherham Hospital

  • Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe (27 September to 10 Oct 1982) – now the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS Foundation Trust

  • Royal General Hospital, Treliske (8 February to 19 March 1983 and 9 May to 21 June 1983) – now the Royal Cornwall Hospital

  • Peterborough District Hospital (28 November to 2 December 1983) – now Peterborough City Hospital

Wales

  • Wrexham Maelor Hospital (May 15 to June 27 1978)
  • East Glamorgan Hospital (May 28 1984 to July 17 1984)
  • Caerphilly Miners’ Hospital (May 1984 to July 2003)

Northern Ireland

  • The Mid Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt (11 January to 4 November 1979)

Scotland

  • Fife Hospitals (25 March to 3 July 1981)

Patients who may have been at risk are being contacted by letter and given a confidential helpline number to call. Any woman who is concerned because they had an obstetric or gynaecological operation, or they gave birth, at one of the 11 hospitals during the specified periods should contact the same helpline number where they will be assessed and offered advice on whether a test is appropriate for them.

The helpline number is 0800 121 4400 and it will be operational from 9am on Thursday 12 September. The helpline will be open daily from 9am to 5pm for as long as needed. It would be helpful if callers could have as much information about their hospital care as possible. 0800 numbers are free for the caller when calling from a UK landline. Calls to 0800 numbers are chargeable on mobile networks. Please check your mobile provider for 0800 call charge rates.

Full details of the hospitals and dates where the healthcare worker practised obstetrics and gynaecology in the UK, as well as further information and advice for the public, visit the NHS Choices website.

Further advice and support is available through the Hepatitis C Trust’s Helpline (0845 223 4424 or 020 7089 6221). Further information is available from The Hepatitis C Trust website, PHE’s hepatitis C web pages and the British Liver Trust website.

Hepatitis C is a virus which can lead to inflammation of the liver. The infection can cause chronic liver disease, and, very rarely, if untreated, cancer of the liver. Around 10,000 new hepatitis C diagnoses are made in England each year and around 160,000 adults in England are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Most people are unaware of their infection because the liver can still operate even when damaged and the virus does not cause any symptoms. It is often only when the liver becomes seriously damaged that symptoms occur and people report to their doctor. Antiviral therapies exist that will clear the virus in many cases.

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and very rarely through sexual intercourse. The virus cannot be transmitted through social contact, kissing or sharing food and drink. In the UK, sharing of equipment by intravenous drug users is the commonest mechanism of infection with hepatitis C. Testing for hepatitis C was first available in 1991.

The lookback exercises across the UK are being carried in accordance with advice from the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers infected with Bloodborne Viruses.

Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.

www.gov.uk/phe Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk

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