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Hundreds of NHS buildings contain asbestos, says TUC

An empty wheelchair on an accident and emergency wardScience Photo Library

Hundreds of NHS buildings across London and Scotland still contain asbestos, the Trades Union Congress has warned.

The substance, which can cause cancer, was present in at least 451 NHS premises in London and 695 in Scotland, research for the TUC found.

Two-thirds of these buildings, which included hospitals, health centres, GP surgeries and blood donor clinics, were open to the public, it added.

The TUC wants all asbestos to be removed from public buildings by law.

Last April, the Work and Pensions Select Committee called for a 40-year deadline to be set for asbestos to be removed from all public and commercial buildings.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Asbestos-related diseases kill around 4,500 people a year across England, Scotland and Wales, the HSE says.

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Asbestos is not considered harmful when it is in large pieces and undamaged.

However, if it is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health. Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases.

Using any type of the substance was banned in the UK in 1999.

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, employers have a duty to prevent workers being exposed to the substance at work.

‘Turning a blind eye’

The study for the TUC was carried out by the Labour Research Department, a union research organisation.

The TUC accused the government of “turning a blind eye” to the scale of the problem, and called for legislation to require that all asbestos was removed from public buildings.

It wants a future Labour government to include this removal as part of a large-scale retrofit programme for all public buildings.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

In April 2022, then-Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith said the government had “a clearly stated goal” that “it is right to – over time and in the safest way – work towards there no longer being asbestos in non-domestic buildings”.

Labour MP Ian Lavery, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, said: “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.”

The UK Health Security Agency says asbestos should not be removed without expert advice.

People are advised to contact their local council for more information about its removal and disposal.

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