Asbestos is in nine out of ten NHS hospitals

Asbestos is in nine out of ten NHS hospitals

Cancer-causing asbestos is present in nine out of ten NHS hospitals, investigation reveals

  • FOI request found 198 out 211 trusts have asbestos in their buildings
  • Has been linked to cancer of the lungs and their lining, as well as scarring
  • MP has called for an audit to uncover the extent of the problem 
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Asbestos can be found in a staggering nine out of ten NHS hospitals, an investigation has revealed. 

A Freedom of Information request found that 198 out 211 trusts have the cancer-causing substance in their buildings. 

And 352 people have attempted to sue the health service for related diseases in the past four years, figures show.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring material that was commonly used as an insulator between the 1950s and 70s. 

Asbestos is in a staggering nine out of ten NHS hospitals, an investigation has revealed (stock)

It has since been linked to cancer of the lungs and their lining, as well as life-threatening scarring of the respiratory system.

Jo Stevens MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Occupational Health and Safety, has called for an audit to uncover the extent of the problem.

Asbestos is a term for a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres. It was banned in the UK in 1999, however, buildings constructed beforehand may have some of the substance still in them.

If these buildings remain intact, they are considered to be very low risk, according to the British Lung Foundation.

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But if they become damaged, tiny asbestos fibres can be released and breathed in. 

This can lead to health concerns, including the cancer mesothelioma, which affects the outer lining of organs. 

According to the NHS more than 2,600 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the UK and ‘is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos’. Lungs comprise up to 79 per cent of cases.

Although not banned in the US, asbestos’ use has been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1970 and just 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma occur every year, according to The Mesothelioma Center.

Asbestos: The hidden killer that was used in thousands of buildings

A sheet of asbestos fibres, which were commonly used to insulate buildings until the 1980s when the health risks they posed became clear

Asbestos is a heat-resistant mineral that was popular in building and construction until the 1980s until the dangers it posed became clear.

As the material was cheap and resistant to fire, it was regularly used as insulation for buildings and electrical hotplate wiring.

The first reports about the cancer-causing properties of asbestos first emerged in Germany in the late 1930s. 

However, it was not until the 1960s that serious diseases like like mesothelioma were firmly established as being caused by asbestos exposure.

The danger of asbestos comes from microscopic fibres which can tear off the material and fester in the body to cause cancer.

Breathing in small amounts of the fibres does not cause any problems, but it is with larger quantities when health conditions occur.

It is now banned in the UK, but it is allowed to remain in some buildings where it is in good condition and undisturbed.

The BBC sent FOI requests to all 243 NHS trusts in Britain.  

In response to the findings, NHS Improvement said strict regulations ensure asbestos is registered and contained within buildings. When construction is carried out, experts safely dispose of the material, a spokesman added. 

But Ms Stevens said: ‘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 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 investigation also revealed more than 350 claims were made against trusts between January 2013 and December last year by people who developed asbestos-related diseases from NHS buildings.

NHS trusts claim this resulted in around £6.8million worth of payouts, however, three legal firms told the BBC they won claims of more than £16.4million.

On the back of the findings, the charity Mesothelioma UK is launching a research project into how asbestos affects hospital staff.

Its founder Liz Darlison said she has ‘loss count’ of the number of mesothelioma patients who were exposed to the deadly substance in hospitals, many of which were built in the second half of the last century.  

But the NHS Improvement spokesman stressed asbestos is safe if undisturbed. 

This comes after the National Education Union called asbestos in schools a ‘ticking time bomb’ last September after at least 363 teachers in the UK have died from mesothelioma since 2001.  

A recent report showed up to 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos. 


Mags Portman was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working in an NHS hospital for more than two decades

A sexual health and HIV consultant was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working in an NHS hospital for more than two decades.

Mags Portman, 44, discovered she was battling the cancer in January last year after spending more than 20 years working at Law Hospital in south Lanarkshire, Scotland.

‘There is a cruel irony thinking that asbestos is still present in hospitals when people go there to be made better and they may well be exposed to something which they’re not aware of,’ she said.

Ms Portman admits she did not know much about asbestos before she was diagnosed but has since learned it is ‘everywhere’.  

It is unclear what treatment Ms Portman is receiving, however, the NHS states ‘it’s rarely possible to cure mesothelioma’ due to its vague symptoms – such as chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue – often being misdiagnosed.

Treatment therefore usually focuses on controlling symptoms and prolonging life. 

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