Aids scare doctor is named as row intensifies

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The Independent Online
THE DOCTOR at the centre of an Aids scare in Bolton was named last night, as the row over the right of patients to know if they are being treated by a HIV positive health worker intensified.

Bolton Health Authority was forced to confirm the identity of Dr Yarab Mudrik Almahawi, 33, after the Manchester Evening News named him and the Unsworth Group Practice in Westhoughton, Greater Manchester, where he worked. Dr Almahawi died of an Aids-related illness in May 1992.

The authority had declined to give the doctor's name on the grounds of confidentiality. The Southern Health and Social Services Board in Northern Ireland where, it emerged, Dr Almahawi worked in three hospitals and carried out some surgical procedures, had also refused to name him.

Yesterday pressure on the Bolton authority from MPs and patients' groups increased. The Department of Health said that new guidelines would advise on when to name an HIV positive individual. Last night the authority said it had a duty to the doctor and his family to maintain confidentiality, but that this had become 'impossible' to uphold.

Dr Wirin Bhatiani, a senior partner in the Unsworth practice who knew that Dr Almahawi was HIV positive, said his work had been monitored by other GPs and he had performed no surgical procedures. But Dr Almahawi had not told the practice that he was working shifts in the casualty department at Bolton Royal Infirmary and he did not inform the hospital authorities that he carried the Aids virus.

A total of 260 patients from the hospital are now being traced. A helpline has received 270 calls since it opened on Sunday.

Dr Almahawi, who was born in Saudi Arabia, was diagnosed as HIV positive while working as a junior doctor at Tyrone hospital, Dungannon, between February and July 1988, February and July 1989, and in early February 1990, the Southern Health board said. 'He wasn't diagnosed HIV positive until 1990. As soon as he was diagnosed, he was counselled and moved immediately and voluntarily into areas of work which did not involve invasive surgical procedure,' the statement said. He worked subsequently at Craigavon hospital, Craigavon, Armagh, and for the Southern Health and Social Services Board in Belfast.

The board declined to say why it had not warned patients of his HIV status before and said that anyone who had undergone an operation involving the doctor would be traced within 48 hours.

Michael Unger, editor of the Manchester Evening News, said he thought 'long and hard' about naming the doctor. 'We did it because there were a lot of concerned people . . . What is more important the confidentiality of a dead doctor or the health status of 30,000 live patients?'

But Dr Patrick Dixon, medical director of Aids Care Education and Training, criticised the decision: 'Telling a whole nation that a doctor has HIV is a scandalous invasion of personal privacy and is not in the public interest because it guarantees others will be discouraged from coming forward.'

The Southern Health Board has a helpline on 0800 289954. The Bolton helpline is 0204 390999.