Asbestos: some nurses face elevated mesothelioma risk through sustained exposure

  • RCN calls for urgent investment in NHS hospital buildings

RCN calls for urgent investment in NHS hospital buildings

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Nurses who worked for decades in hospitals containing asbestos may be three times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.

Around 6 million tonnes of the toxic mineral, once a staple of the construction industry, remain in UK public buildings, says a report by think tank ResPublica.

The report highlights one study that suggested a nurse who worked in a building that contained asbestos over a 30-year period was three times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.

The NHS estate needs urgent investment – RCN

RCN national officer for health and safety Kim Sunley said the heightened risk came from working in poorly maintained, outdated facilities. She called for urgent investment in the NHS estate.

‘Nurses who have developed mesothelioma may have been exposed to the toxic substance in passageways where pipes and insulation panels lagged with asbestos weren’t properly maintained,’ she said.

Many hospitals built during the post-war period were likely to have had asbestos in their structures.

Asbestos exposure is not a problem that’s been consigned to the past

The ResPublica report observes there is an inaccurate assumption that asbestos is a historic problem.

'Asbestos-related deaths have stabilised and are projected to fall,’ the authors say. 'However, these figures mask an accelerating rise in mesothelioma among groups not traditionally at risk, such as nurses.'

ResPublica wants a central register of all asbestos remaining in public buildings.

Thousands still die of occupational asbestos exposure each year

Ms Sunley said: ‘A nationwide database could increase transparency, but investment in the NHS estate is urgently needed to tackle the management and removal of asbestos.’

The Health and Safety Executive said asbestos still kills around 5,000 people who were occupationally exposed to it each year – that is more than the number killed in road accidents.

Mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis are the three most common conditions associated with asbestos.

Further information

The ResPublica report on asbestos

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