Awareness of asbestos risk and the possibility of a mesothelioma diagnosis should be added to the mandatory training for new NHS staff, given that asbestos is present in many hospital buildings, a report has recommended.
A University of Sheffield study into the impact of asbestos-related cancer and mesothelioma on healthcare staff found that hospitals have a duty to make staff aware of the existence of the substance in their buildings, and to communicate a mesothelioma diagnosis to a staff member in a “patient first, professional second” manner.
A Freedom of Information request by the BBC, referenced in the research paper, found that 352 claims in relation to asbestos-related disease as a result of working in NHS hospital buildings were received between January 2013 and December 2016. Some 182 claims had been settled with the average award paid out standing at more than £25,000.
Recommendations made by the Mesothelioma Asbestos Guidance Study (MAGS) also included allowing staff affected by asbestos-related disease to use their skills to help fellow patients, by setting up support groups, for example; reminding those leaving the NHS that asbestos exists in NHS premises and they should be aware that illness is a possibility; and improving the data that is held on asbestos-related disease in the healthcare profession.
Dr Peter Allmark, the lead researcher for MAGS at the University of Sheffield, said: “The healthcare workers I interviewed were people who’d worked many years caring for others. That they had either certainly, or probably been exposed to asbestos at work and become seriously ill as a result was deeply upsetting. Their wish is that this project will help healthcare workers avoid this in future.”
Liz Darlison, head of services for Mesothelioma UK, which part-funded the study, said: “We’re learning that mesothelioma doesn’t just affect people who worked in areas typically associated with asbestos exposure such as the construction or shipping industries. People are exposed to asbestos in many of our public buildings such as hospitals and schools.
“Mesothelioma UK will ensure that this research raises awareness of the risk of exposure to healthcare staff and hopefully, improve the treatment and care given to them by medical teams and support agencies.”