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Settlement for surgeon infected with HIV

A SURGEON'S career ended after he contracted HIV from a patient, the High Court has heard.

Yesterday, the doctor settled an action for damages against the HSE, the State and the hospital.

Neither he nor the hospital can be named by court order. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

At a previous hearing, the doctor said his life stopped the day he was diagnosed with HIV in 1997 after he had got a flu-like illness.

He could not be specific as to when he was infected because he had operated on more than 100 patients for the three months prior to the diagnosis, but believed it was as a result of needle stick injuries while carrying out operations.

Among his claims against the defendants was a lack of mandatory screening of hospital patients for HIV, which exposed him to a risk of harm.

The defendants had not implemented patient testing on grounds it was "uneconomical" and only those patients suspected as being at significant risk of HIV were asked whether they have the virus, he alleged.

He claimed, under the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors, that he could not refuse to carry out surgical procedures on persons presenting for treatment and had to perform his duties regardless of a patient's status or condition.

The defendants had denied the claims and pleaded contributory negligence. They claimed the doctor failed to have any or adequate regard to the risk of infection from HIV while carrying out invasive surgical procedures.

They also said circulars and guidelines were issued to health boards about the importance of adherence by health care staff to infection control measures in relation to blood-borne diseases.

In his claim, the doctor said that, as a result of being diagnosed with HIV, he had to immediately give up his duties as senior surgical registrar -- just as he was within a short period of securing an appointment as a consultant surgeon.

He and his wife were not ready to have children at an earlier stage of their marriage and after his infection the option was closed to them.

They were very distressed by his diagnosis, which radically altered their hopes for the future, and he also lived in constant fear he might infect his wife.


He had also suffered all the consequences of HIV infection, including illness, tiredness, lethargy and depression and continued to undergo therapy that had substantially altered his lifestyle and caused nausea, upset and trauma.

He said he had to use various sharp implements while performing his duties, but latex gloves worn by him and other doctors were easily and regularly perforated by such instruments and by bone.

The court heard yesterday that the parties had agreed that the case could be struck out.

Counsel for the hospital said he wanted to make clear there was no suggestion by the hospital that the doctor's HIV infection was acquired otherwise than in an occupational setting.

Irish Independent