A surgeon who operated on patients while infected with Hepatitis C claimed yesterday that he thought the people he was working with already knew about it.

Mohammed Qamar Sarwar-Rana, from Kings Heath, is accused of exposing patients to the virus at four hospitals, including one in Solihull, while working as a locum.

But he told the General Medical Council in London that he understood he had a low level of the illness and added: "I did not think it was a serious problem in 2001."

Mr Sarwar-Rana said he told the agency responsible for finding him work and assumed the information would be passed on.

"The reason I didn't speak to the consultants was I was under the impression I had faxed my letter and had informed the locum agency.

"I was under the impression he knew and that's why I continued assisting in these operations.

"Also I would have been embarrassed to discuss it with everybody I met. People still think it is a bad disease, and it's 'Go away from me.'"

Mr Sarwar- Rana claimed he thought he was allowed to assist in surgery as long as he was not placing his hands inside the patient.

He said he was only properly advised in October 2003, after he had worked at King George Hospital in Ilford, London, and Solihull Hospital.

The locum was confronted by his consultant at Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, and referred to an expert, Dr Eugene Hui.

Mr Sarwar-Rana said: "He told me in the light of the guidelines I could not do exposure prone procedures but he didn't say which procedures I should or should not do.

"Everybody was saying different and there was a lot of grey areas."

He said he carried out further operations at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals Trust but was not deliberately flouting Department of Health guidelines.

Mr Sarwar-Rana said: "I did these procedures in the honest belief it was not exposure-prone procedure."

His conduct is said to have been inappropriate, misleading, not in his patients' best interests, and a risk to the health of his patients.

Mr Sarwar-Rana, of Woodthorpe Road, 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.

He denies serious professional misconduct. The hearing continues.