Many NHS buildings, including many hospitals, remain riddled with asbestos, a survey has concluded.
The research by the Labour Research Department (LRD) has concluded that two-thirds of surveyed NHS premises and buildings in London and Scotland still contain asbestos, despite its use being banned 23 years ago. Asbestos was still present in at least 451 buildings in London, more than half of those surveyed.
In response, the TUC has called for new legislation requiring the removal of all asbestos from public buildings rather than the current policy of just “managing” it.
The research was carried out by the LRD for the TUC and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health.
As well as the 451 sites in London, asbestos was found in 695 buildings in Scotland, so in total 1,146 just in those two parts of the NHS together.
Moreover, these totals did not include a further 1,109 premises and buildings in London and Scotland where the trust or board was not the duty holder, in other words where responsibility for asbestos management lay with other owners or tenants or leaseholders (including NHS Property Services).
Two-thirds of the NHS premises and buildings with asbestos were open to access by the public, the report also warned.
The extent of the presence of asbestos in the NHS estate raises concern for the wellbeing of workers and members of the public using these premises, the TUC has warned.
It called on a future Labour government, if the party was to get into power, to include asbestos removal as part of a large-scale retrofit programme of all public buildings, funded by its Climate Investment Pledge.
Asbestos and the workplace
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Asbestos exposure continues to cause thousands of deaths every year. Yet asbestos is still with us in workplaces and public buildings across the country. As a result, decades after the use of asbestos was banned, hundreds of thousands of workers, patients and members of the public are still put at risk of exposure every day.
“The only way to protect today’s workers and future generations is through the safe removal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings. We need national government to work with local authorities on a plan to remove it from every last building,” he added.
Ian Lavery MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, said: “These shocking figures expose the extent of risk to dangerous carcinogenic exposure in the very places designed to nurture our health.
“Thousands of people are dying every year of asbestos-related illness, with thousands more being diagnosed. If asbestos is in a building, it will at some point become dangerous if it’s disturbed, so we need plans in place for its removal from all public buildings.”
The latest warnings follow reports last week that trade unions are set to work with a leading cancer expert to study the exposure of women in their late-40s to mid-60s to asbestos in schools.
The Guardian newspaper said the National Education Union is among those set to work with Professor Julian Peto, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
During the pandemic, too, a University of Sheffield study into the impact of asbestos-related cancer and mesothelioma on healthcare staff recommended that awareness of asbestos risk and the possibility of a mesothelioma diagnosis be added to the mandatory training for new NHS staff, given the extent of asbestos present in many hospital buildings.