MORE than 1000 women who were treated in Scotland more that 30 years ago for gynaecological and maternity issues are being traced after a healthcare worker was diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus.

A health alert is under way across the UK after it was discovered that the worker, now retired, unknowingly had the virus for decades, while employed by the NHS in various parts of the UK.

In Scotland, NHS Fife is trying to trace the women after it was established the worker, who has not been identified, worked in its hospitals between March and July in 1981.

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They are women who attended Forth Park Hospital and Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy and Adamson Hospital in Fife with a search on for patients who also attended hospitals which have since closed their doors.

These are Dunfermline Maternity Hospital, West Fife Hospital, also Dunfermline, Craigtoun Hospital by St Andrews and St Andrews Memorial Hospital.

While officials have stressed that the risk is low, it is now known that the healthcare worker, who was employed in gynaecology and obstetrics, infected two patients with the virus while working at a hospital in Wales.

At least 3000 former patients across the UK are being contacted by letter, informing them of the risk, and a series of confidential helplines and a support service have been set up.

Dr Edward Coyle, NHS Fife director of public health, said: "Given that this occurred in Fife over 30 years ago it is proving challenging to source detailed patient records, particularly as names and addresses may have changed. An extensive verification exercise is ongoing.

"Patients identified as having a risk of exposure will be written to and offered further advice and screening. The risk remains small and screening remains a precautionary measure."

Mr Coyle said that Hepatitis C does not automatically lead to other health problems and as many as 1 in 250 people carry the infection.

Hepatitis C can lead to inflammation of the liver and cause chronic liver disease and, very rarely, liver cancer.