AROUND 700 women have contacted Aneurin Bevan Health Board about blood tests for hepatitis C in the wake of an announcement that a now retired healthcare worker had unwittingly infected two patients with the virus whilst working at a Gwent hospital.

Five thousand women in the Gwent area who were or may have been treated by the healthcare worker at Caerphilly District Miners' Hospital from May 1984-June 2003, are being contacted by letter and offered a test.

The initial response came in the 24 hours since the issue was made public, and the first letters were received.

The alert involves women who had obstetric and gynaecological treatments, including caesarian sections, hysterectomies, and ovary removals.

Dr Gill Richardson, director of public health for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, said appointments have been booked for those who wanted a test.

The first specialist nurse-led clinics will be held from today across the health board area.

"We will continue to do everything we can to support patients," said Dr Richardson.

"We would encourage all women who receive a letter to contact the dedicated helpline number (open 8am-8pm, seven days a week) which is contained in each letter, to arrange their test as soon as possible.

"We need to again stress that the risk of transmission is low and testing is being provided as a precautionary measure."

The healthcare worker, who is not being identified, was unaware of having the disease until it was diagnosed after they had retired.

They are known to have transmitted the virus - which can cause inflammation of liver and if untreated, chronic liver disease and very rare, liver cancer - to two former patients whilst at Caerphilly District Miners' Hospital.

Some 5,500 women from across the UK are being contacted with an offer of a test, based on where the healthcare worker was employed, though around 5,000 of them involved treatment at Caerphilly, during the aforementioned 19-year period.

The women who have received or will soon receive a letter offering a blood test, were identified during a summer-long trawl of health records.

* Further information is available on the health board's website at Anyone with general concerns can call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.