HEALTH chiefs are writing to more than 1,300 people who may have had contact with a hospital staff member who had TB.

Sunderland Royal Hospital is asking about 100 patients thought to have had prolonged contact with the unidentified person to undergo immediate screening. The majority, who had more limited contact, have been advised to look out for symptoms developing but are said to be unlikely to be at risk.

A 24-hour helpline on 0845 4647 has been set up with NHS Direct North-East to deal with queries.

The infected worker was diagnosed with TB at the end of September.

The disease takes about eight weeks to incubate and the hospital says screening of patients before now would have been useless. The worker was treated, recovered fully, and returned to work.

Hospital medical director David Allen said: "We have come up with this large number of patients because we wanted to make sure we included absolutely everyone who might have had contact.

"We are certain that the number of people who have actually had contact is much smaller than that because the member of staff has not been on duty for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.''

He added: "We do not expect to find anyone with TB and will be surprised to find anyone with TB.'