NHS Lothian has contacted heart patients – including residents of the Falkirk area – to warn them they may have been exposed to a possible infection risk which has already resulted in the deaths of a number of people.
Those at risk include patients who had heart aortic valve replacement operations at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in the last six months.
The warning, issued by the Incident Management Team which, came after notification of an unusual case of heart valve infection, or endocarditis as it also know.
An extensive review of the infection records of thousands of patients who had many different types of surgery carried out since the beginning of 2015 was carried out and the team found six patients who underwent cardio thoracic surgery over a period of 18 months were affected by unusual infections caused by micro organisms commonly found in the environment.
It is thought these may have been acquired during surgery.
Of the small number of patients affected, sadly some later died.
No cases were found prior to March 2017 and there have been no known cases in patients operated on since November 2018.
As a precaution however, four planned surgeries have been cancelled this week to allow for specialist cleaning and disinfection of the theatres used for this type of procedure. Enhanced infection control measures have also been put in place.
Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian Executive Lead for Infection Control, said: “We extend our sincere apologies and deepest condolences to the families of the patients who died, all of whom were informed at the time of their treatment they had an unusual and difficult to treat infection.
“We know this will be a worrying time for those who have received letters but we have contacted patients purely as a precaution. The risk is very low and we do not anticipate any more cases, however we know that it can take up to six months for these infections to materialise.
“We want to make sure those patients know what symptoms to be aware of and to contact NHS Inform if they have any concerns. Many patients receiving this type of surgery are already very ill and vulnerable to infection so we place the highest importance on a stringent infection prevention and control regime.
“We are very sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment caused to the patients who have had their procedures cancelled this week but we must prioritise patient safety above all else.
“All those affected will be given new appointments as soon as possible.”