A consultant surgeon at a Midland hospital had no idea his assistant in an operation was infected with the Hepatitis C virus, a disciplinary hearing heard yesterday.

Urologist Ramasamy Jaganathan let junior doctor Mohammed Sarwar-Rana help out in surgery at Solihull Hospital in January 2003.

He told the General Medical Council there was a risk he could accidentally 'stab' Mr Sarwar- Rana during an operation, spilling his infected blood.

The GMC has heard how the locum doctor risked exposing patients to the virus at four hospitals across the country.

These included the King George Hospital in Ilford, east London, the Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire, the Bradford Teaching Hospitals and the Solihull Hospital.

Mr Sarwar-Rana admits he knew he had the virus but claimed the risk was so small there was no danger to anyone.

Department of Health guidelines ban anyone infected from carrying out "exposure prone procedures" such as major surgery.

But Mr Jaganathan told the hearing he believed the locum should not have been involved in the operation he carried out, which involved repairing a hernia, removing a varicose vein, and a vasectomy.

Mr Jaganathan said: "I was carrying out the surgery and the assistant's job is to hold open the wound.

"The cutting of the wound is done by the assistant. Although the assistant does not touch the would he would come into contact with blood.

"The surgeon's instruments can touch the assistant's hands. If that happens to be a needle or a knife in that process there could be a hole in the glove or contamination of blood from the assistant."

The urologist said in his experience there was a one in 200 risk of his assistant being injured.

He added: "Exposure prone procedures are defined where there could be blood contacting the surgeon or the assistant."

Asked whether he was aware Mr Sarwar-Rana was infected with Hepatitis C, he said: "No, I was not."

The hearing was told Hepatitis C could cause serious illness leading to cirrhosis or even primary liver cancer.

Mr Sarwar-Rana, of Woodthorpe Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, qualified in 1981 in Pakistan but has regularly worked in the UK since becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1992.

It is claimed his conduct was inappropriate, misleading, not in his patients' best interests, and a risk to the health of his patients.

He denies serious professional misconduct.

The hearing continues.