Published: 10/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5942 Page 8

More than 2,000 women have been asked to undergo hepatitis C testing after it was discovered that a locum obstetrics and gynaecology surgeon had probably passed the disease to a former patient.

'I want to emphasise that the risk is very small and that screening is being offered purely as a precautionary measure, ' said Dr Barry Evans of the Health Protection Agency's Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre.

The recall of patients started in 2003, when 432 patients from three trusts - Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals, Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals in Berkshire, and Dartford and Gravesham in Kent - were contacted. They had all had what are termed exposureprone procedures - invasive surgery such as caesarean sections or hysterectomies - involving the surgeon in the last 10 years.

None of those who came forward for testing proved positive. However, another former patient was found to be suffering from the disease: she had a similar genotype of the disease as the surgeon, making it probable that he infected her.

Eight English trusts and one Scottish health board, where the surgeon has worked as a locum since starting work in the UK in the early to mid-1980s, have now contacted a further 2,350 women by letter. This asks them to call a helpline, which will then offer them blood tests together with counselling and extra information. Women who were contacted earlier and declined tests are also being offered them again.

A spokesperson for the HPA's southeast region said: 'There has been a huge amount of patients' notes to go through. It has been a huge exercise as it has had to be co-ordinated very carefully and confidentially.' The doctor was unaware that he had the disease and was moved to other duties, not involving a risk to patients, as soon as he was diagnosed.