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Hospitals & Asbestos – Unlikely Bedfellows

December 20, 2018

Hospitals & Asbestos – Unlikely Bedfellows

Knowing what has been uncovered about Asbestos since peak production ceased in the mid-1970s and the following regulation across the globe regarding the use of the mineral it is surprising that 50 years on the headlines should be awash with stories that include the two most unlikely of bedfellows Asbestos and Health.

As the end of 2018 rapidly approaches throughout December a range of stories in the press have highlighted the continuing dangers associated with the historical use of Asbestos in constructions and also the potential risks associated with Asbestos contamination in the estates of health care trusts.

At the start of this month, the media widely reported that in England, 90% of NHS trusts have hospitals that contain Asbestos. The finding, based on a BBC enquiry, detailed that of the 211 health trusts that responded to the survey a staggering 198 replied ‘yes’ to running hospitals that contained the material in the fabric of buildings. All 243 health trusts in Britain were sent requests to partake in the study by the BBC.

Previous reports by BBC London in 2017 had claimed that the number of people who could potentially contract cancer from asbestos poisoning in London hospitals was a “ticking time bomb” and that 94% of hospitals in the London area contained cancer-causing Asbestos.

The 2017 report by the BBC went on to say that while those most at risk from Asbestos related illness are generally those in the construction industry who are most likely to disturb the material but of 1000 mesothelioma deaths in London between 2011 and 2017 seven were nurses or doctors.

These findings follow reports by Doctor Peter Szlosarek, consultant oncologist at Barts Hospital who is studying mesothelioma that people who have worked in offices and buildings with Asbestos are increasingly
diagnosed with mesothelioma, rather than just those who had direct contact with the material.

As time passes and building come towards the end of their life cycle and require demolition or repair the full extent of the use of Asbestos throughout the 1950s to mid-1970s is becoming apparent. Like other buildings throughout the UK, much of the NHS estate dates from a time when Asbestos was used extensively in construction.

While it is claimed to be safe when undisturbed the passing of time and poor repair in elements of building fabric such as asbestos lagging and piping mean the risk of contact with the building’s users increases year on year.

In the 2017 report by the BBC the trade union Unite’s construction centre have taken a hard line on Asbestos in hospitals with their acting national instructor Jerry Swain stating “If we’re going to leave asbestos in places, we have to be aware that we are taking a conscious decision and that people will die.”

This latest report is likely to raise yet more questions surrounding Asbestos in the estate’s of Health Trusts and plans to eradicate it.

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