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Research reveals alarming NHS asbestos figures

20 February 2023

THE TUC and a group of MPs have warned hundreds of NHS buildings across London still contain asbestos – including hospitals.

The research was carried out by Labour Research Department (LRD) for the TUC and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. 

Asbestos is still the biggest workplace killer according to the Health and Safety Executive, and Britain has the highest rates of mesothelioma cases in the world. But new research reveals that the majority of surveyed NHS buildings – including hospitals, health centres, blood donor clinics and GP surgeries – still contain asbestos more than 23 years since its use was banned in new buildings. 

Asbestos report 

The survey found at least 451 premises with asbestos in London during the first half of 2022.  

The TUC says the extent of asbestos presence in the research sample raises concern for the wellbeing of workers and members of the public using these premises. 

Action needed   

The TUC says the current Tory government has neglected its responsibility to provide safe workplaces in public buildings, “turning a blind eye” to the extent of asbestos still present – putting workers at risk. 

The TUC is calling for new legislation requiring removal of all asbestos from public buildings, rather than the current policy of “managing” it. 

The union body is calling on a future Labour government to include asbestos removal as part of a large-scale retrofit programme of all public buildings, funded by its Climate Investment Pledge.

There is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibres – inhalation even of small quantities can lead to mesothelioma decades after exposure. This means that where asbestos is still present, it is not safe to assume there will be no disturbances that put working people in danger. 

The TUC says the only way we will eradicate asbestos cancer is with a legal duty to safely remove asbestos, and a clear timetable for its eradication. Only then can we ensure that future generations will not have to experience the same deadly epidemic from asbestos-related diseases that we suffer today. 

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.” 

Ian Lavery MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Asbestos 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.”