Melbourne health services ‘took too long’ to notify patients over hep B


Victoria’s Opposition is demanding to know why it took authorities so long to notify the public about a hepatitis B scare at a Melbourne health service.

The Health Department and Human Services has contacted more than 650 people across Melbourne after a health worker at an undisclosed medical facility was diagnosed with the virus.

The Opposition’s health spokeswoman, Mary Wooldridge, said there was an eight-month gap between authorities learning of the diagnosis and alerting the public.

“The department does investigate who’s been in contact but it’s an inordinately long amount of time and puts people at risk,” she said.

“If people have been exposed, they need to know that and get treatment and there’s also a risk of infecting others. This timeframe of eight months is just too long.”

The department said there had been no reports so far of any patient contracting hepatitis B from the healthcare worker. A total of 157 people notified have been tested.

Ms Wooldridge said people should be confident about Victoria’s health services.

“People who might have been exposed to hepatitis B will be very concerned,” she said.

“It’s good to see that nearly 150 people have already been tested but there’s clearly 500 more who haven’t.”

Department says it followed proper process

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Roscoe Taylor said the department had followed proper process.

“These investigations do take a long time to set up,” he said.

“The reason is we have to be very careful to only contact those patients who are particularly at any conceivable risk of exposure to the hepatitis B virus through having certain procedures being carried out by the health worker … where there’s a risk of a transfer of blood.”

Dr Taylor said the worker needed to be interviewed, before a panel was set up to determine how best to tackle the incident.

He said the charts of all patients the worker had been in contact with over three years had to be examined for those who might be at risk.

Medicare was then contacted to follow up on the addresses of those who may have been exposed, which took until March for the mail-out.

Dr Taylor said he was satisfied with the response.

“I’ve worked in different parts of Australia where similar process is followed and I think we’re on a par or even better with some of the timeframes that have been seen,” he said.

Hepatitis B is a blood-borne virus spread through unsafe sex with an infected person, and less frequently through blood-to-blood incidents such as needle stick injuries.

It infects the liver and symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting and jaundice. It can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure if left untreated.