South West Wales

Morriston Hospital heart patients at hepatitis B risk

More than 150 patients who underwent heart surgery in Swansea earlier this year have been told they may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus.

Managers said there was a "low risk" involving patients who had surgery at the cardiothoracic unit at Morriston Hospital between 11 March and 17 April.

A patient treated at the unit at this time was later diagnosed with an acute hepatitis B infection and died.

A health watchdog said the family are now pursuing a complaint.

All non-emergency cardiac surgery has been postponed temporarily.

Patients at risk have been sent letters offering blood tests to check if they have been infected.

The ABM University Health Board said there was "a low risk" they may have been exposed to the virus during their stay at the unit.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver spread through blood and body fluids.

The virus can cause an acute illness that resolves itself quickly but it can cause a chronic illness that lasts more than six months.

In rare cases it can cause serious liver damage and may eventually be fatal however treatments are available.

The health board said it was alerted to the problem when a patient who received treatment and was discharged as planned was later newly diagnosed with an acute Hepatitis B infection. The patient has since died.

External review

The health board and Public Health Wales are carrying out an investigation and have commissioned an external review.

Transmission from staff, family members and blood products has been ruled out.

The board said it is likely that the virus had been indirectly transmitted from another patient at the unit who was known to be Hepatitis B positive.

The health board said it was "extremely rare" for blood borne viruses like hepatitis B to be passed between patients because of "robust precautions and procedures" in place.

It said as well as screening staff, reinforcing training and switching to more single-use surgical instruments it had redecorated and deep cleaned both cardiac theatres and wards.

Routine surgery has been postponed until new equipment arrives.

In a statement the health board said: "We anticipate this temporary suspension of non-urgent cardiac surgery will be for a few days only, until the new equipment arrives, and we apologise for any inconvenience this will cause patients.

"We will also be commissioning an external review as soon as possible, to review the processes we have in place.

"Although the risk to other patients who were in the unit is low, they are being offered blood tests to rule out transmission of the virus or to enable proactive treatment if a result was positive.

"Only patients who were cardiothoracic patients at Morriston Hospital during this time period are being contacted.

"Patients who have not received a letter do not need a blood test."

Phil Williams, chief officer of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Community Health Council (CHC) said the matter was of deep concern.

"I was reassured that the risk to the 150 or so patients is low but nevertheless I hope that they will all take up the offer of further screening as a matter of urgency," said Mr Williams.

"I can confirm that the family of the patient who sadly died have been in contact with the CHC and are pursuing an official complaint."

Mr Williams said family members had expressed a wish to be left alone.

A helpline has also been set up for patients who receive letters.

Any other patients who may have concerns should contact their GP or NHS Direct Wales on 08454647 for further information.

Have you been affected by this issue and received a letter from the health board? Your confidentiality will be respected

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