The former healthcare worker tested positive for hepatitis C infection in 2008 and immediately stopped carrying out healthcare procedures and did not return to clinical practice.
NHS Lanarkshire is working with other health boards and health agencies in other parts of the UK to notify patients who may have had a surgical procedure carried out by the former healthcare worker between 1982 and January 2008.
Advice from Scottish and UK experts is that the risk of the hepatitis C virus having been transmitted to a patient during surgery involving the healthcare worker is low.
Patients - mainly from Lanarkshire, but also across Scotland and the rest of the UK - are receiving letters this week informing them of the situation and recommending that they arrange an appointment for a blood test.
Of the 8,383 patients being contacted, 7,311 are from Lanarkshire. In previous similar exercises either no patients or only a small number have been found to be infected.
Dr Iain Wallace, Medical Director, NHS Lanarkshire, said: “We would like to reassure people that the likelihood of patients acquiring the virus from a surgical procedure carried out by the healthcare worker is low.
“We know that some people receiving the letter may be anxious about what this means for them. We have apologised to patients for any concern that may be caused by this situation.
“We are committed to supporting patients and are ensuring they have every opportunity to get information about hepatitis C, the testing process and the situation in general.
“We are also putting on additional clinics locally to make it as straightforward and convenient as possible for people to get tested.”
Professor David Goldberg, Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Consultant Clinical Epidemiologist, Health Protection Scotland, said: “Although the risk of infection is low, we are recommending that people take up the offer of a blood test to ensure anyone who does have the virus can receive the right treatment. Treatment for hepatitis C is highly effective.”
To ensure a consistent and coordinated approach for all patients, NHS Lanarkshire has been working jointly with partner organisations and agencies including other Scottish health boards, Health Protection Scotland, Public Health England, NHS England, the Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland, Public Health Wales and the UK Advisory Panel for Healthcare Workers Infected with Blood Borne Viruses (UKAP).
The healthcare worker worked in hospitals across Lanarkshire, but was primarily based at Wishaw General Hospital and the former Law Hospital.
They were at the William Harvey Hospital in East Kent for three months between January and April 2006. East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust has written to 46 patients in relation to this period.
The healthcare worker worked predominantly in England before 1982.
The healthcare worker was tested by NHS Lanarkshire’s occupational health service in January 2008 and found to have hepatitis C.
They immediately stopped carrying out surgical procedures and did not return to clinical practice.
Although transmission of hepatitis C virus from a healthcare worker to a patient is rare, NHS Lanarkshire and Health Protection Scotland carried out a detailed investigation at that time with the findings of the investigation submitted to UKAP.
Based on the evidence available at that time, the UK Advisory Panel advised that a patient notification exercise was not indicated.
The current patient notification exercise is being carried out after NHS Lanarkshire’s Health Protection Team was made aware in 2015 of a patient recently referred for treatment for hepatitis C who had a surgical procedure carried out by the healthcare worker. Further investigations identified that it was probable that this patient was infected with the virus during a surgical procedure carried out by the healthcare worker.
Subsequent investigations identified another patient in Lanarkshire with hepatitis C for whom it is also probable that they were infected during a procedure carried out by the healthcare worker.
After detailed investigations, including extensive testing of viruses, NHS Lanarkshire submitted a report to UKAP. UKAP endorsed NHS Lanarkshire’s proposal to carry out a patient notification exercise.
Patients are receiving a detailed question and answer sheet with their letter which includes information about hepatitis C and how to arrange to be tested.
Videos and other information about hepatitis C and the public health situation are available at www.nhslanarkshire.org.uk
. More information about hepatitis C is also available from the Hepatitis C Trust at www.hepctrust.org.uk
A freephone helpline has been set up for members of the public in Scotland who have questions or concerns on 0800 028 2816
People receiving a letter in Scotland have been sent details of a separate dedicated freephone helpline number. People who have received a letter in England have been sent a separate phone number to call with enquiries.
Scottish helplines will be open from 8am to 10pm, Monday to Sunday, from Tuesday 23 February until 17 March 2016.
Special testing clinics have been set up for Lanarkshire patients who wish to be tested. Details of how to make an appointment for testing are being sent to patients with their notification letter.
Arrangements have also been made in other health boards and parts of the UK to enable patients to be tested.
Ongoing updates about the progress of the public health exercise will be provided at http://www2.nhslanarkshire.org.uk/Services/PublicHealth/hep-c/Pages/Hepatitis-C.aspx