One of London’s largest health trusts has paid out more than £1.3 million in compensation to people who developed illnesses from asbestos while in hospital.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust – which runs two of London’s largest hospitals – has been hit with 20 legal claims since 2001, figures show.
The trust is just one of many London hospitals and health centres which contain the microscopic harmful minerals, commonly used in building materials for years.
Both of its major hospitals and six of its smaller community centres still contain asbestos and £3.9 million has been spent on removing it since 2001. The Standard contacted all London health authorities for figures of the compensation paid out for asbestos-related illnesses.
Of the trusts which replied, St Guy’s and South West London and St George’s NHS trust were the only others to have given payouts. The South West London trust received one legal claim due to illness relating to asbestos, and admitted three of their buildings still have the material.
Liz Darlison, consultant nurse and director of services at charity Mesothelioma UK, said she has “lost count” of the number of doctors and nurses with mesothelioma – a rare cancer which can be caused by asbestos.
She said: “It’s not just doctors and nurses but maintenance people and hospital workers generally.
“But it doesn’t matter what your background is or career pathway, whether you are a doctor, secretary or car mechanic, nobody expects to have a life-limiting disease.”The presence of asbestos in Guy’s Hospital – which was founded in the 18th century – has been known for some time.
Consultant anaesthetist Andrew Lawson, who was a medical student at St Guy’s Hospital, died aged 55 two years ago from mesothelioma..
He wrote in the Telegraph before he died: “It seems that, while at medical school, I was exposed to asbestos fibres in some part of the hospital (four other doctors and dentists from my era developed the disease; I am the only one surviving).”
But the Health and Safety Executive – the watchdog which monitors hospitals – said the fact London’s hospitals know exactly where their asbestos is suggests responsible management.
“Lots of buildings have asbestos,” a spokeswoman said. “If you want a building used as a work place then the duty holder has a duty to manage the asbestos.
“And sometimes it’s less risky to leave it in place. It only becomes harmful if the fibres are released in the atmosphere.”
Ms Darlison said: “As long as it’s not airborne, it’s allegedly not a risk. The problem is it’s so prevalent in the fabric of our buildings.
“We all know our public buildings, schools, colleges, hospitals have a lot of traffic and the traffic that goes through them does not always take care of the building, the banging of wheelchairs, the slamming of doors.
“The only long term solution is to have a strategy of removing it.” Other hospitals said no cases had been brought against them, although they shared figures of how much had been spent on removing the harmful material.
Figures revealed Camden and Islington’s NHS Trust manages 32 sites which have asbestos, with the organisation spending £525,091 on removal work since 2001 – including from St Pancras Hospital.
North London’s Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Trust said it has 54 sites which contain asbestos and has spent £105,000 getting rid of it.Three buildings owned by South West London and St George’s NHS Trust – including wards, offices, staff accommodation and hospital areas – have asbestos, while west London’s Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Trust says it owns 20 properties with the substance and has spent a total of £143,755 on removal work.
The HSE spokeswoman said most compensation claims date back to workers’ exposure decades ago and said someone who has an asbestos-related illness today would likely have contracted it around 30 to 40 years ago.
Asbestos still kills around 5,000 workers every year – more than the number killed on the road – and can be present in any building built before or refurbished before 2000.
It only becomes harmful when the materials containing asbestos is disturbed or damaged and the fibres are inhaled.
A spokesperson from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said: “Guy’s and St Thomas’ is one of the largest trusts providing both hospital and community services from many sites.
“We have a major capital development programme each year, much of which involves carrying out renovations and developments within existing buildings. This will sometimes involve the removal of asbestos as part of these works.
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