Surgeon's patients to face tests for hepatitis

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 770 hospital patients in northern England and Scotland are being recalled for tests after a trainee surgeon was found to be a carrier of the liver disease hepatitis B.

Helplines have been set up while 450 patients at Sunderland City Hospitals and 112 patients with South Tyneside Health Care Trust are being contacted individually and given advice, vaccination or a blood test. One patient developed jaundice.

Between 30 and 40 patients, in whose operations the 30- year-old doctor from Nigeria assisted at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland, between 1992 and 1993, have also been contacted.

Similar action is being taken at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, where the doctor had a training post between February and July 1993. There, 172 patients are being contacted.

Last month, another surgeon was jailed for a year after working when he knew he was a carrier.

The Nigerian doctor's carrier status was discovered as a result of routine hepatitis B vaccinations which all surgeons are now required to have. At the end of the six- month course a blood test failed to show that the vaccine had raised hepatitis antibodies and further tests were undertaken.

The doctor, who came to the United Kingdom three years ago, is believed not to have been aware that he is a carrier and has ceased clinical work. It has not been established when he became a carrier.

Professor Liam Donaldson, regional director of public health at Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authority, said: 'Recalling patients is a precautionary measure.

'Research evidence suggests that the chance of infection is low, but we will take all necessary steps to minimise the risks to patients.'

He said hepatitis B ranges in severity from flu-like symptoms to serious liver disease and, in rare cases, death.

A year ago, the Department of Health set a deadline of June this year for all surgeons to be vaccinated against hepatitis B. Six months ago only 60 per cent had received the vaccinations, according to the British Medical Association. A spokesman said 'substantial numbers' had still not been vaccinated.

However, the department said that it was the responsibility of health authorities to see that guidelines were adhered to.

'The guidance says that by the middle of this year any doctor involved in invasive procedures with patients should have been vaccinated. It is the responsibility of their employers to ensure this has been done,' a spokesman said yesterday.

The guidelines were updated after the case of Umesh Gaud was publicised last year. Dr Gaud, a heart surgeon, continued to work knowing he was a hepatitis B carrier. Last month, he was jailed for a year.

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