ONE of Scotland’s largest health boards has apologised to a patient believed to have caught hepatitis C in a hospital’s emergency department.
NHS Lothian is trying to find the source of the infection but believes it is likely to have come from cross-contamination in the accident and emergency department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in July.
A total of 34 other patients who were in the emergency ward at the same time have been contacted by the health board.
Their risk of infection is thought to be “very low,” according to the board, but they are being offered precautionary testing, as well as advice and information. Further details of the patient affected have not been disclosed.
Infection-control measures for the emergency department have been reviewed, and extra measures have been put in place, according to NHS Lothian.
The health board said it had fallen below its own “high standards”, adding that it had stressed the importance of hand hygiene and the risks associated with blood-borne viruses, such as hepatitis C, to its staff.
About 50,000 people in Scotland – roughly 1 per cent of the population – are infected with hepatitis C and while some people experience little liver damage, others with the disease can develop cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer or end-stage liver disease.
Dr David Farquharson, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “We take infection prevention and control extremely seriously and the safety of our patients is our top priority.
“Unfortunately, on this occasion, we have fallen below the high standards which we expect.
“We have spoken to and, apologised to the individual involved, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise for the distress this has caused.
“This investigation has identified failings in our processes and these are being urgently addressed.”
Dr Farquharson added: “I would like to reassure everyone who has visited our emergency department that the risk of being infected is very low. If anyone is at all concerned, I would encourage them to contact the dedicated helpline.”
According to the latest figures from Scottish Government agency Health Protection Scotland, the number of people being diagnosed with the virus in 2013 is above average.
Some 920 new cases were diagnosed between January and June, compared to average of 857 for the same six-month period in the years from 2003 to 2010.
The NHS 24 helpline can be contacted on 08000 282 816.