- Doctors at the hospital where 24 people have been exposed
to infection from a deadly brain disease knew which patients were at risk
three months ago but failed to inform them, it emerged today.
- Health officials are now trying to trace patients who
could have been exposed to sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) through
contaminated instruments used during surgery at Middlesbrough general hospital
during the summer.
- A woman later diagnosed with CJD underwent neurosurgery
on July 19 but instruments used during her operation were used again on
more than 20 other people the in following months.
- Ian Holtby, director of public health for Teesside, said
doctors at South Tees hospitals NHS trust knew of the woman diagnosis on
August 8 but only decided they would contact those at risk last Thursday.
- Dr Holtby said: "It is unfortunate it has taken
such a long time but it takes time to pull the experts together and it
takes quite a while to pull the information out about the degree of risk."
- But he told patients not to "worry unduly"
about the potential risk of exposure to the fatal condition.
- "Those people affected will be contacted, so if
you haven't been contacted just forget about it," he advised.
- The South Tees trust has withdrawn £90,000 worth
of surgical equipment following the scare.
- A hospital spokeswoman said: "We have withdrawn
several drills, craniotomy sets [used by surgeons to cut open skulls] and
general medical sets used in the theatre as a precaution as soon as the
diagnosis was confirmed."
- The Department of Health (DoH) claimed the instruments
should have been quarantined as soon as it became clear there was a potential
risk of transmitting CJD.
- The chief medical officer has asked the regional director
of public health, Dr Bill Kirkup, to look into the incident at Middlesbrough
and report to him shortly.
- Sir Liam Donaldson said the report "will ensure
that any measures necessary to improve local procedures or strengthen national
policy are taken".
- He said: "The immediate need is to provide support
and help for those who believe they may have been affected and I am assured
that the hospital is now so doing."
- Dr Paul Lawler, clinical director for South Tees hospitals
NHS trust, said the equipment was not quarantined after the first operation
because CJD was never suspected.
- Dr Lawler said: "It is a terrible incident but nevertheless
it could still happen tomorrow in this hospital or indeed in any other
- CJD accounts for about 85% of all cases of the illness
and, although it can prove fatal, it can also have an incubation period
of up to 20 years.
- It is not to be confused with variant CJD, which is the
human form of BSE, and is potentially linked to contaminated meat.
- Government guidance on the handling of instruments exposed
to CJD has been in place since 1999.
- A DoH spokesman said the guidelines to NHS trusts were
there to "prevent the avoidable and unnecessary exposure to this disease".
- Clive Evers, a spokesman and former chairman of the CJD
Support Network, said the incident showed warnings were not being taken
- "This is something that should not have happened.
There has been guidance in place well before the time of this incident,"
- "Clearly what is happening is that good, solid guidance
is produced and it is not being disseminated, it is not being taken seriously,
it is not being publicized enough to the people who need to have access
to it. That's the lesson that has to be learnt."
- First Published 10-30-02
- SocietyGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited