A woman who was infected with hepatitis C after being given infected blood during childbirth has described how she was “gaslit” by medics as she fought to seek help for symptoms linked to the virus.

Joanne Vincent, from Worthing, said doctors refused to believe she had given up alcohol for almost two years.

She was one of hundreds of mothers infected with contaminated blood after giving birth.

As problems persisted Ms Vincent was referred to a specialist but she only found out when she arrived at the appointment that she had been referred to an alcohol liaison nurse.

The Argus: Joanne Vincent said doctors refused to believe she had given up alcohol for almost two yearsJoanne Vincent said doctors refused to believe she had given up alcohol for almost two years (Image: PA/Joanne Vincent)

The 59-year-old was infected with hepatitis C when she received a blood transfusion following the birth of her daughter in 1988.

At the time, Ms Vincent was one of many women who were told they were suffering from conditions including depression, allergies or irritable bowel syndrome as doctors failed to spot that they were trying to fight off the infection.

Some women waited decades before they were finally diagnosed with hepatitis C and the delay means many have serious and ongoing health issues.

Ms Vincent now has liver cirrhosis and has to go for checks twice a year to see if she has developed liver cancer.

“I ask myself: ‘if my doctor hadn’t delayed it, could my cirrhosis have been avoided’?” she said.

On her diagnosis, which came 26 years after she was first infected, she said: “My world was ripped out from under me.”

Ms Vincent, who owned a burger van before her health deteriorated, described going “backwards and forwards” to the doctor for years and was diagnosed with conditions including postnatal depression and irritable bowel syndrome before her doctor said her liver problems had been caused by excessive alcohol.

Having only drunk occasionally, Ms Vincent cut out booze altogether but her doctor did not believe her.

“He said ‘you need to stop drinking,’ and I said ‘I have stopped drinking,’ and he said: ‘that’s not what your liver is saying’.

“That went on for two years – two years I went forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards,” she said.

Finally the GP said he was referring Ms Vincent “to a specialist” and referred her to an alcohol liaison nurse.

But the nurse found the cause of Ms Vincent’s problems and in May 2015 she was given a scan which discovered that she had liver cirrhosis.

“When you have cirrhosis, you go for a test, scan and blood tests every six months because there is a higher chance of developing liver cancer,” she said.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette every six months, it plays on my mental health so badly, it’s so scary.”

The Hepatitis C Trust, a charity dedicated to eliminating the virus by 2030, said these women were “let down twice”- first when they were given contaminated blood transfusions and again when they tried to seek help for symptoms.

Statisticians estimate that around 27,000 people were infected with contaminated blood as a result of blood transfusions.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Around 64 per cent of people who received an infected blood transfusion were women; many of whom were let down twice by the healthcare system.

“Firstly, when they were given infected blood and again when their symptoms were not properly investigated.

“Over the years, we’ve heard from hundreds of women who felt let down, and on occasion gaslit, by their GP in the search for answers about their health.”

Hepatitis C is often referred to as a “silent killer” due to vague symptoms.

The charity has encouraged anyone who had a blood transfusion before the mid 1990s to get checked for hepatitis C.

At-home hepatitis C tests can be ordered via hepctest.nhs.uk.

People are given a kit which includes a finger prick test which draws a small amount of blood, which is sent off for testing.

GPs can also help patients order tests if they cannot do them at home.