Asbestos is present in nine out of ten NHS hospitals, an FOI investigation has revealed following a BBC investigation.
An inquiry has been demanded after 198 out of 211 trusts responded to Freedom of Information requests admitting that the hazardous material forms part of their buildings.
The BBC investigation also found that 352 legal claims had been made against trusts between January 2013 and December 2017 by people claiming they had developed asbestos-related diseases from NHS premises.
Documents from those trusts indicate they paid out £6.8 million in compensation, although lawyers have suggested the true amount may be far higher.
Jo Stevens, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Occupational Health and Safety, has called on the Government to audit the entire health service to understand the scale of the problem, saying;
“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.”
The naturally occuring mineral was widely used in construction between the 1950s and 70s, however it has since become subject to heavy regulation after being linked to mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest lining which causes more than 5,000 deaths in the UK a year.
Mesothelioma UK has said it is launching a research project into the impact on hospital workers.
Liz Darlison, the charity’s founder, said;
“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. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos in our hospitals.”
However, NHS Improvement, which oversees hospitals, said strict rules were in place to make sure asbestos is safely contained.
A spokesperson for NHS Improvement said:
“Many parts of the NHS estate date from an era when asbestos was widely used. Asbestos is considered safe if it is undisturbed. 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.”