Thursday 20 July 2017

Worried patients in helpline rush over Hep C fear

Brian McDonald and Eilish O'Regan

MORE than 50 people yesterday contacted a helpline fearing they may have been treated by a surgeon infected with hepatitis C.

It comes as the Health Service Executive (HSE) faces criticism over the delay in notifying patients -- it knew last July that the surgeon was hep-C positive.

The worried patients contacted the hospital helpline after it was announced earlier this week that 454 former patients of hospitals in Galway, Mayo and Letterkenny will be asked to test for hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus.

But the patients will not know until Monday if they are among those who have been selected for the tests after an examination of their files by an expert advisory group.

Yesterday it emerged that the surgeon -- still described as "a healthcare worker" by the HSE -- had been unaware of the condition when participating in surgical procedures at University Hospital Galway, and Mayo and Letterkenny General Hospitals between 2004 and 2008.

The Department of Public Health at HSE West was notified in July of last year of the medic's hep-C infection and has spent the last 10 months wading through records of hundreds of thousands of procedures before deciding to alert 457 patients.

But the period between the discovery of the surgeon's condition and the decision to send individual letters to the affected patients -- letters were being issued yesterday -- has been condemned by the chairman of the HSE West Regional Health Forum.

Councillor Padraig Connelly accused the HSE of learning nothing from the case of the late Brigid McCole.

Mrs McCole, a mother of 12 children from Donegal, died in 1996 from a hepatitis C related illness. She was one of 1,000 woman infected with a contaminated blood product manufactured by the Blood Transfusion Board.

Cllr Connelly said that he had tabled an emergency motion seeking a full report on the controversy at next Tuesday's meeting of the Regional Health Forum. In his view the HSE is "a dysfunctional body with no direction".

"The HSE are supposed to be there for patient care; that's the primary aim," he said. "But the entire organisation is administration-driven and it never ceases to amaze me."

The HSE said yesterday it was unable say how many doctors have screened positive for hepatitis C or other viruses because senior staff are on leave.

Nor could it say what viruses doctors who apply to work in Irish hospitals are screened for. Public Health specialist at HSE West, Dr Breda Smyth, insisted that the entire process had been carried out as speedily as possible from the time of notification about the infection in July of last year.

Irish Independent

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