Northern Trust helpline set up as healthcare worker is diagnosed with Hepatitis C

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The Northern Health and Social Care Trust has recently learned that a healthcare worker who worked in the Maternity & Gynaecology Department in Mid-Ulster Hospital only, from January to November 1979, has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

The risk of transmission to patients is very small however, as a precaution, the Trust has established a Helpline and is asking anyone who was treated in the Mid Ulster Hospital Maternity and Gynaecology Unit at that time to phone the helpline on 028 94424804.

Hepatitis C is a virus that can damage the liver. There is only a small chance that a person might have the Hepatitis C virus transmitted through contact with an infected healthcare worker. However, transmission is rare. Most people initially show no symptoms and can remain well for a number of years.

Dr Robin Ashe, Clinical Director for Obstetrics & Gynaecology within the Northern Trust, said: “I wish to emphasise that the risk of infection is very small however, we appreciate the concern and distress that this may cause and are therefore offering screening, as a precaution, to anyone who was treated in the unit during the defined time period.

“If you were treated in the Maternity and Gynaecology Department in Mid-Ulster Hospital between 11th January and 4th November 1979 please contact our Helpline on 028 9442 4804. The helpline is open seven days a week from 8.30am to 8.30pm and staff will be able to guide you as to whether you need to have a blood test undertaken. If you do need tested staff will arrange an appointment for you at an outpatient clinic and will answer any questions or queries you may have.”

The Trust is currently reviewing patients’ notes for the timeframe in question however, given that it was over 30 years ago, it is proving challenging to source detailed notes for all patients - particularly as they could have changed name or address. An extensive verification exercise is currently ongoing and the Trust hopes to confirm contact details for many of the patients concerned.

The Trust are, however, encouraging anyone who was a maternity or gynaecology patient between January and November 1979 to contact the help line so as many people as possible can be identified and tested.

Assessment clinics will open from 8.30am until 8.30pm from tomorrow until they are no longer required. The venue, date and time of the appointment will be confirmed with each patient required to attend and results will be available within a week. Effective treatments are available for Hepatitis C and further information and advice will also be provided to anyone who needs it.

Hepatitis C is not uncommon. As many as one in 250 people across the UK carry the Hepatitis C infection and it does not automatically lead to healthcare problems. Treatment can help clear the infection in up to 80 per cent of cases so it is important that those at risk are tested and diagnosed so treatment can be started if necessary.

The Healthcare worker also worked at other hospitals across the UK and similar look back exercises are taking place in parallel across hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales. The healthcare worker did not work in any other hospital in Northern Ireland and the Northern Trust is working closely with the Public Health Agency, the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Health in dealing with this matter.

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