A recent BBC investigation found that approximately 9 out of 10 NHS trusts administer hospitals that contain asbestos. Exposure to asbestos has been closely linked to illnesses, such as mesothelioma – a deadly cancer on the lining of the chest, which results in more than 5,000 deaths a year in the UK.
So it’s crucial that hospitals and health facilities take immediate steps to identify whether they have dangerous asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) on their premises. If so, they will next need to assess the level of risk that these ACMs pose and make plans to call in highly trained experts to safely remove them.
The potentially devastating effects of asbestos in hospitals
Although it was banned in 1999, asbestos had been used regularly in construction throughout the UK. This was especially true from the 1950s and 1970s, when asbestos was placed in a substantial number of buildings across the nation.
As a result, asbestos can potentially be found today in any building that was constructed or refurbished before the year 2000. This is troubling when you consider the sheer scope of this lethal substance in UK buildings and the resultant sickness and death that it could cause.
The BBC report, which was published in December 2018, revealed that 198 out of 211 NHS trusts stated that asbestos existed in hospitals under their jurisdiction. According to another study, ACMs are most likely to be found in some common areas throughout hospitals, such as:
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Lagging, used as thermal insulation on pipes
The widespread presence of asbestos in hospitals poses significant health risks to patients and hospital employees alike. In a testament to the seriousness of this situation, the BBC learned that 352 claims were made against health trusts, between January 2013 and December 2017, by individuals who had developed asbestos-related diseases following exposure in NHS buildings.
Preventing an asbestos-related rise in mesothelioma
The NHS improvement team has officially stated that there are strict regulations in place to ensure that asbestos in buildings are registered and safely contained. However, MP Jo Stevens, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Occupational Health and Safety, apparently would like more reassurance on this issue. To that end, she has requested an audit aimed at identifying just how much asbestos there is within NHS facilities.
According to MP Stevens, this audit also intends to discover what long-term plans and strategies the NHS has to locate and remove asbestos from all its buildings. Additionally, she believes that any NHS asbestos-removal processes need to prioritise and deal with the most perilous cases first. The charity, Mesothelioma UK, also examined the NHS asbestos situation by carrying out its own research project which looked specifically at the effects of ACMs on hospital employees. The founder of Mesothelioma UK, Liz Darlison, signalled her alarm with the findings, saying:
I've lost count of the number of people who have developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos in our hospitals.
Denis Morgan, the technical and training manager for asbestos at another institution, SOCOTEC – which describes itself as the UK's leading provider of testing, inspection and compliance services for the infrastructure, energy, environment and safety sectors – also weighed in on this issue. He stated that,
Although asbestos is currently not considered to be a health hazard in its dormant state, once its fibres have been disturbed by refurbishment or maintenance works, it poses a serious health threat.
For this reason, Martin stressed, it is absolutely vital for NHS authorities to discover the location of ACMs in healthcare buildings, in order to mitigate short-term risks and formulate viable long-term solutions.
ION Environmental can help to eradicate asbestos from the healthcare sector
The only way to truly protect patients and employees from asbestos exposure is to completely eliminate all traces of this deadly substance from hospital buildings and NHS facilities. As a fully licenced asbestos removal contractor, we specialise in delivering compliant and high quality solutions which meet the needs of our clients across the UK.
On each of our projects, we are completely dedicated to providing outstanding customer service and effective management of project risk and costs.
To find out more about what we offer please click here.