Asbestos found in most NHS hospitals finds BBC inquiry

An inquiry led by the BBC has found that nine out of ten NHS hospitals have asbestos. The inquiry included 211 trust hospitals of which 198 agreed that they used asbestos in their hospital.

The team from BBC had sent a “Freedom of Information” request to 243 NHS trusts across Britain to find out the extent of asbestos use.

In a response the NHS Improvement has said that the asbestos found in these NHS hospital buildings were safely contained and registered. A spokesman said, “When building or other work is carried out, experts are brought in to safely dispose of it. We will continue to work with trusts to ensure their estates are a safe environment for patients and staff.”

Asbestos chrysotile fibers that cause lung disease, COPD, lung cancer, mesothelioma. Image Credit: farbled / Shutterstock
Asbestos chrysotile fibers that cause lung disease, COPD, lung cancer, mesothelioma. Image Credit: farbled / Shutterstock

Asbestos is a commonly used fibrous material that was used extensively in building material recently until it was known to cause several diseases of the lungs including cancers. It was one of the major components of buildings in 1950s to 70s. When inhaled, asbestos particles can cause lung and chest cancers called mesotheliomas which still kill around 5000 Britons a year.

Jo Stevens MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Occupational Health and Safety, in response to this inquiry has requested the government to look deeper into the matter and conduct an audit to understand the extent of this problem. Stevens said the audit is necessary to, “ensure every trust knows the extent of asbestos on their premises and has a plan for dealing with it.” She added, “If it's there it will at some point become dangerous if it's disturbed or if it deteriorates, so I'd like to see long term plans and long term strategies in place for its removal from all buildings. I appreciate that you have to prioritise what you do and so that's why there should be an audit of buildings so that the dangerous areas are dealt with first as a priority.”

The BBC inquiry looked at the claims related to asbestos-causing diseases and found that there were 352 such claims between January 2013 and December 2017. These claims were from people who developed asbestos-related diseases in the NHS buildings. These individuals had been paid £6.8m in payouts. Three legal firms on the other hand said that these individuals had won over £16.4m in compensation to the sufferers over the same time gap.

Charity Mesothelioma UK has also expressed its concerns and its founder Liz Darlison said, “I've lost count of the number of people who have developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos in our hospitals. I'm not surprised, a lot of our hospitals were built in the second half of the last century when we were at the peak of importing asbestos into this country.”

Ananya Mandal

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Ananya Mandal

Ananya is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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