Edinburgh's health service: 92 per cent of NHS Lothian buildings contain asbestos

Nine out of ten NHS buildings in Lothian contain asbestos, the health board has admitted.
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A series of Freedom of Information requests by the Scottish Conservatives to health boards across Scotland found 52 per cent of buildings belonging to the NHS had the toxic substance which can cause cancer. Lothian had the highest rate – 92 per cent.

Out of Scotland’s 14 health boards, eight reported having asbestos in more than 50 per cent of their buildings – double the rate for other public buildings. In Scottish Government buildings the average figure is around 26 per cent.

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The Tories accused the SNP Scottish Government of failing to keep staff and vulnerable patients safe and called for the safe removal of asbestos from affected buildings.

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs MSP called on the government to give health boards extra cash to remove the material. He said: “These shocking figures will undoubtedly raise questions about the state of our NHS buildings under the SNP. Buildings such as hospitals are supposed to be places where people feel safe, yet more than half of them contain this potentially cancer-causing substance.

“While we know it’s unlikely that asbestos will be inhaled unless buildings are damaged, NHS staff and patients need confidence and peace of mind that they are not being put at risk. It’s essential, therefore, that SNP ministers provide health boards with the funds to ensure the safe removal of asbestos from their buildings. The SNP government must do more to protect our NHS estate, and ensure that dedicated staff can continue saving lives in the best facilities possible.”

Mr Briggs, who is Scottish Conservative spokesman on social justice, housing, and local government, acknowledged that some of the buildings may now be disused and others might be used for storage. “It’s not clear how many of them are patient-facing,” he said. “But we need to see a plan for the removal of asbestos or the decommissioning of buildings and then the Scottish Government need to help boards like NHS Lothin, which has not currently got the money to do this, work out how they’re going to deal with it and which buildings need to be prioritised.”

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We recognise the hazard of asbestos and the risks to health it poses. However, asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed, which is why it is important it remains in-situ while it is in 'good' condition, and that all Health and Safety Executive guidance is followed when planning and carrying out any removal. This is the situation for managing asbestos in NHS buildings across the UK. For example, NHS England has found that over 90 per cent of their buildings checked in the last three years have been found to have asbestos-containing material."

NHS Lothian was contacted for comment.