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Written Statement - UK-wide Hepatitis C look back exercise launched

Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services

I would like to make Members aware of a serious incident that has been reported by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, involving a retired healthcare worker who has been diagnosed as having Hepatitis C.  The healthcare worker’s  main employment in Wales was between May 1984 and July 2003 at Caerphilly District Miners’ Hospital, but also for a short time at the former East Glamorgan Hospital (28 May 1984 – 17 July 1984) and Wrexham Maelor Hospital (15 May 1978 – 27 June 1978).  During the healthcare worker’s career, time was also spent working in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

To date, two patients in Wales have been identified as having Hepatitis C, which is known to have been transmitted from the healthcare worker.  

Advice on appropriate handling of this incident has been sought from the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare workers infected with blood borne viruses (UKAP).  UKAP advised Aneurin Bevan University Health Board to undertake a look-back exercise and establish an Incident Management Team.  The look-back exercise involved locating and reviewing a significant number of case notes to identify those patients who may have been exposed to this infection.  A Patient Notification Exercise (PNE), led by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has been put in place.  As well as covering its local area, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is co-ordinating the response for patients from Cwm Taf and Betsi Cadwaladr Health Boards.  

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is writing to at least 3,000 patients this week and a further 2,000 patients next week, who have been identified as having definitely or possibly received certain procedures from the healthcare worker. The vast majority are in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s locality, with a small number in both Cwm Taf and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Boards. Where patients have moved out of these areas every effort is being made to contact them.

People who receive a letter are being offered counselling and advice on what to do next.  The letter provides details of a dedicated telephone helpline number which is staffed with trained individuals.  Clinics have been set up to provide testing for these individuals and appointments will be arranged over the helpline. NHS Direct Wales, on 0845 46 47, is providing a general helpline service for those who may be concerned, but have not been identified through the Patient Notification Exercise.

UKAP is advising the Welsh response as part of a UK-wide approach.  Further patients may be contacted in the light of additional advice on risk categories.  The response is also being supported throughout by Public Health Wales.

The identity of the healthcare worker is not being released.  It is extremely important that all Hepatitis C infected patients (including healthcare workers) receive the same right to confidentiality as any other patient seeking or receiving medical care. Like most people who are infected with Hepatitis C, the healthcare worker had no symptoms and was unaware of the infection until after retirement.  As soon as a transmission was confirmed, an incident response was put in place.

Since 2007, all healthcare workers who are new to the NHS should be offered a Hepatitis C test and anyone performing surgical procedures for the first time (known as Exposure Prone Procedures) should be tested for Hepatitis C by their employing Trust or Health Board.  

I want to emphasise that the risk of infection is low and that we are offering testing purely as a precaution.  As few as 1 in 250 people in the UK carry Hepatitis C infection which does not automatically lead to health problems.  It is important to identify people who may have been infected because treatment can help clear the infection in up to 80% of cases.

I would like to express my gratitude to colleagues in the other UK administrations and health services for their co-operation in dealing with this incident.  

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.