The doctor, who has not been named, is believed to have been working at a practice in Westhoughton, in Greater Manchester. He died in May last year.
A joint statement issued by Bolton Health Authority and Bolton Family Health Services Authority, said that he had completed six shifts - between six and 10 hours long - at Bolton Royal Infirmary between October 1991 and January 1992. He had also worked in general practice from August 1991 to February 1992, but had not been involved in any invasive surgical procedures.
Patients who may have been treated by him are now being traced, and will be offered counselling and blood tests. A Helpline service will be open from 10am today. Dr Peter Povey, director of public health for the health authority, said that the risk of HIV transmission from doctor to patient was minimal.
John Brunt, general manager of the Bolton Hospitals unit, said that the authorities had been unaware that the doctor had Aids, until contacted by the Independent on Sunday, after the paper received an anonymous phone- call. He declined to comment on whether other partners in the practice had been aware of his illness.
Last week the Mid-Glamorgan Health Authority was criticised for failing to tell the public that a trainee GP, who had worked in the area, had died of Aids in October 1992.
By contrast, Medway Health Authority went public as soon
as it learned that Terence Shuttleworth, a gynaecologist, was HIV positive. The number of patients involved - 17,000 over 10 years - left little alternative.
Both cases lead to calls
for compulsory testing of health workers, which Virginia Bot
tomley, the Secretary of State for Health, immediately ruled out. However, she has ordered a review of existing guidelines to protect patients from infection by health workers.
Whether or not more robust guidance is needed from the Department of Health - and reconsideration of compulsory testing - may depend on the outcome of the Shuttleworth case. To date, there has not been a comparable pool of patients in the world who have been treated by an HIV-positive health worker.
A total of 765 former patients of the gynaecologist have now had blood tests. A further 793 have made appointments for counselling; many will opt for the test, too. Statistically, it is likely that one or more will be positive. Mr Shuttleworth is unlikely to be
responsible for any infections among his patients, but proving that fact beyond all reasonable doubt will become a priority.
If further tests showed that a patient had a strain of the virus related to that carried by Mr Shuttleworth, it would be the first case of a surgeon unintentionally infecting a patient. Such a finding would have a huge impact on surgical practice worldwide. Legal action against the surgeon or the health authority could follow.
If, however, the viral strains were unrelated, it would give more credence to the view that there is indeed 'minimal risk' of transmission from doctor to patient.
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