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One of the places where you would expect to be safe from noxious substances would be a hospital, wouldn’t you think? Apparently not when the substance is asbestos and the hospital is St Pancras Hospital in Camden, North London.

Tunnels contain asbestos

In autumn 2015 it was revealed that an extensive web of tunnels running beneath the hospital had had to be sealed shut when it was discovered that large amounts of asbestos were present. These tunnels have been used by hospital staff for many years as a means of access.

Specialist asbestos analysts, brought in by the Hospital Trust to investigate the situation, were said to have found two of the most dangerous forms of asbestos, amosite and crocidolite, more commonly known and blue and brown asbestos.

Are asbestos checks thorough enough?

This has led to questions being raised about the thoroughness of the asbestos checks undertaken by the NHS Trust who took over ownership of the Hospital in 2012.

The hospital specialises in geriatric and psychiatric medicine and was formerly the St Pancras Workhouse with buildings dating as far back as 1777 so it is perhaps not a complete surprise that the building contained asbestos.

It is however shocking that such a large Trust would put their employees at risk of coming into contact with asbestos dust and fibres when the health risks are so well known. However this is not the first time that this issue has arisen. In 1998 a claim for damages was brought against the then named Camden Islington Mental Health Trust by a Consultant who subsequently died from mesothelioma as a result of coming into contact with asbestos in his workplace and the Trust was ordered to pay damages of £1 million to his family in settlement.

No asbestos danger to public

The Trust has stressed that the public has not been put at risk or affected by the asbestos found and that their main focus is to ensure that staff that may have potentially been exposed to asbestos have full access to specialist screening and occupational health advice.

They have confirmed that hospital staff who may have been exposed to the asbestos have been sent for urgent investigative lung tests.  Since asbestos related lung diseases can lie dormant for many years before they become symptomatic it is highly unlikely that these tests will reveal anything of use. Asbestos lung conditions can include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and diffuse pleural thickening.

Sadly this is not the first time or, no doubt, the last time that instances of potential exposure in UK hospitals will come to light.