HUNDREDS of women may be tested for Hepatitis C after a doctor was discovered to have the deadly virus.
But the HSE today refused to identify the 10 hospitals where the doctor worked.
The hospitals involved are now being notified that the patients treated by the medic may need to be examined.
The doctor – who has returned to England – has been registered as an obstetrician here since October 2008 and was employed through an agency on a locum basis.
But the HSE has only recently learned that he was diagnosed with the infectious virus which can cause liver failure and death.
The alarm about the consultant, who is in his 50s, was raised only recently when it was discovered that the doctor suffered from the contagious, life-threatening condition.
Crucially, since 2008, all new full-time staff employed by the HSE have to undergo testing for Hepatitis C.
Agency doctors must also be tested, but the onus is on the agency to ensure the doctor has been given the all-clear.
Hepatitis C has no obvious symptoms until major organ damage has been caused.
It can be passed on by blood contact and ultimately leads to liver failure and death.
While the risk of a health worker passing on the virus to a patient is low, the HSE has alerted hospitals to review their patient files and offer free Hepatitis C tests to women who were operated on by the consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, HSE assistant national director of health protection, has warned all hospitals that the doctor must not be employed in a job where patients could be exposed to the virus through blood contact.
A spokeswoman for the HSE has confirmed that all hospitals have been alerted by its infectious disease section .
The spokeswoman said: “The HSE has recently become aware that a healthcare worker, who has previously worked in hospitals in the Republic of Ireland, was recently diagnosed as having Hepatitis C virus infection.
“Hospital management in the HSE is working closely with Public Health Departments and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in relation to this case.
“An expert group is currently establishing the background to this case to identify what actions, if any, may need to be taken.
“Hepatitis C is much less infectious than Hepatitis B.
“The risk of acquiring the infection from an infected healthcare worker is very low - between 0pc to 3.7pc.”
A recent review by a HSE team of blood-borne virus transmission in Irish healthcare settings between 1997 and 2008 found that no patient was infected by a healthcare worker. Over 2,000 patients were tested during this period.
The spokeswoman pointed out that healthcare workers with Hepatitis C are not permitted to carry out certain procedures depending on the circumstances.