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Vaughan Gething, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport.

First published:
3 October 2016
Last updated:

The NHS across the UK is writing to patients who have had certain types of open heart surgery.  This is to inform them that they have a very low risk of having contracted an infection caused by Mycobacterium chimaera.  Only those patients who have had heart valve replacement or valve repair surgery, including procedures as part of congenital heart disease surgery since January 2013 are being contacted.  Patients who have had other types of open heart surgery have a very minimal risk of contracting this infection are not being proactively contacted.

Public Health Wales and our seven Welsh health boards are sending letters to around 2,770 patients as part of this UK-wide exercise.

Patients who have received such surgery since 2013 will be told they are at low risk of having contracted this infection.  The risk to patients is around one case in 5,000 operations.

There have been 28 cases of the infection in the UK to date, 3 cases have been identified from Wales, who have been operated on both here and in England.  Cases have been reported internationally.

The infection is linked to the use of a certain type of heater cooler device which is used in operating theatres during surgery to regulate blood temperature.

Welsh patients will only receive letters if they received surgery at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, or in a cardiac centre in England.  Patients who received surgery at Morriston Hospital in Swansea will not be written to as the hospital does not use the particular type of heater-cooler unit which has been linked to this infection.

These letters will explain that even if patients have had valve replacement or repair surgery, they should not be concerned unless they experience symptoms of infection.

Anyone who has received a letter and still has concerns can contact the dedicated Public Health Wales helpline on 0800 035 2877, which will be available from 20 March to 7 April.  Local cardiology services will be available to follow up any individual should this be required.

Advice on contaminating heater cooler devices was issued to surgical centres in November 2015 by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after Mycobacterium chimaera infection risk was identified.  No cases of the infection have been identified in patients who had surgery in the UK since this guidance was published.