The Public Health Agency (PHA) is aware that a healthcare worker who had worked in Maternity and Gynaecology hospitals throughout the UK has been diagnosed with hepatitis C infection. Although the risk of acquiring hepatitis C in this situation is very low, a ‘look back’ patient notification exercise is being undertaken.
There is only a small chance that someone might have the hepatitis C virus transmitted through contact with an infected healthcare worker as this can only occur if the healthcare worker leads or assists in an operation on a patient, and even in such circumstances transmission is rare.
This healthcare worker worked in the Mid Ulster Hospital’s Maternity and Gynaecology Department over thirty years ago from 11 January 1979 to 4 November 1979. They did not work in any other hospitals in Northern Ireland, nor did they work in the Republic of Ireland.
The PHA is working closely with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust in relation to their look back exercise which has begun.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director, Health Protection, at the PHA, said: “Hepatitis C is not uncommon; as many as one in 250 people carry the infection in the UK and it does not automatically lead to health problems. It is very rare for a healthcare worker infected with hepatitis C to pass on the infection to a patient, but in this particular case there is a very slight chance that a patient might have been infected with the virus. This could only happen during some surgical procedures, not during any other care.
“I want to emphasise that the risk of infection is very small and that the Northern Trust is offering testing, as a precaution, to anyone who believes they may have been treated in the Maternity and Gynaecology Unit of the Mid Ulster Hospital during the relevant time period. Effective treatments are available for hepatitis C and further information and advice will also be provided to anyone who needs it.
“Hepatitis C was ony identified in 1989, and a test was not developed until 1991.”
For more information on hepatitis C see the PHA leaflet – Hepatitis C: could I be at risk? at www.bit.ly/hepcguide
If you were a patient at the Mid Ulster Hospital’s Maternity and Gynaecology Department during this period you can contact the Northern Trust helpline on 028 9442 4804. The helpline is open seven days a week from 8.30am to 8.30pm.
Notes to the editor
Hospitals and dates where the healthcare worker practiced Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the UK:
- 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 & 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 Hospital
- Royal General Hospital, Treliske (8 Feb to 19 March 1983 & 9 May to 21 June 1983) – now the Royal Cornwall Hospital
- Peterborough District Hospital (28 November to 2 December 1983) – now Peterborough City Hospital
- 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)
- The Mid Ulster Hospital (11 January to 4 November 1979)
- Fife Hospitals (25 March to 3 July 1981)
- Hepatitis C is a virus which can lead to inflammation of the liver. The infection can cause chronic liver disease, and, very rarely, cancer of the liver. Around 10,000 new diagnoses of hepatitis C infection are diagnosed in England each year, and around 110 in Northern Ireland. 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 for infection with hepatitis C.
- 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.
- For more information about hepatitis C, please visit http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/HepatitisC/
For information and support, please visit http://www.hepctrust.org.uk/
For information about liver disease, please visit the http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/
6. In accordance with the DHSSPS guidance, new healthcare workers that are carrying out exposure prone procedures (EPPs), and existing workers who intend to embark upon careers that involve the performance of EPPs, are tested for hepatitis C virus.