VIRUS FEAR FOR 1,000s; Patients face HIV and hep C tests after dentist is hit by 'dirty equipment' accusation.
THOUSANDS of patients fear they may have contracted HIV or hepatitis after claims a Highland dentist used dirty equipment.
Health chiefs yesterday launched a helpline and offered counselling to patients of dentist John Halliday.
NHS Highland is offering blood tests to those registered with Mr Halliday at the Inshes Dental Centre, Inverness, if they are worried about infection.
All 1,511 of Halliday's NHS patients - including 954 children - received letters from health chiefs yesterday explaining the situation.
However, about 2,000 private patients were still being contacted last night as the NHS does not have their details and had to obtain them from Mr Halliday.
NHS Highland Chief Executive Roger Gibbins said: "Last night, we wrote to all the NHS patients of John Halliday. He is not currently practising.
"This follows an investigation of allegations that equipment used by him may not always have been subject to the correct decontamination procedures.
"None of the concerns apply to Chris Parkin (a colleague)." Former army dentist, Mr Halliday has not worked since September 9, though he has not been suspended - he quit "by mutual agreement".
The allegations - made by Chris Parkin, who works in the same centre - refer to a two-year period from August 2002 to last month.
Investigations have so far revealed corroborating evidence from staff and former employees of Mr Halliday.
Public health consultant Dr Dennis Tracey said: "The evidence suggests that risks to patients are extremely small.
"However, there is a remote chance some viruses like hepatitis C and HIV, can be transmitted by blood on instruments from one patient to another patient."
Mr Halliday's fate will await the outcome of the investigation, though it was thought unlikely that the case would become a criminal one.
The dentist was not answering his door yesterday.
CLAIMS: Chris Parkin; INVESTIGATION: Dr Tracey issued health warning after dirty equipment claims at surgery