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Silent Killer: Nurse's Death Highlights Ongoing Threat of Asbestos in Hospitals

A doting father and loving Nurse in NHS lost his life untimely due to asbestos. The devastating story of Guru Ghoorah, an NHS nurse who tragically lost his life to mesothelioma, highlights the ongoing dangers posed by asbestos in healthcare facilities. 

Ghoorah's wife reveals that he was unaware of the risks he faced while working in asbestos-filled hospitals, where he was unknowingly exposed to this hazardous substance. Despite the knowledge of cancerous asbestos, it continues to claim the lives of thousands of people in NHS and schools annually. This heart-wrenching case underscores the urgent need to address the presence of asbestos in older buildings and protect the health and safety of healthcare workers.

Asbestos, a mineral fibre once widely used in construction, has long been recognised as a significant health hazard. Exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to serious illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. The story of Guru Ghoorah serves as a stark reminder that the dangers of asbestos persist, even though its use has been banned for many years.

Mr Ghoorah, a dedicated NHS nurse, worked as a trainee nurse and in healthcare support from 1993 to 2003 at various hospitals in Essex. He witnessed damaged asbestos panels and pipes lagging inwards and other parts of the hospitals during his tenure. Tragically, he was never informed about the risks associated with asbestos exposure, leading to his eventual diagnosis of mesothelioma—an incurable cancer caused by asbestos inhalation.

Mr Ghoorah's symptoms began with weight loss and pain in a shoulder in September 2012; a later biopsy showed he had mesothelioma. He was given chemotherapy but sadly died in March 2013. His wife has said his children Tanishka and Pejash have been "traumatised".

Guru Ghoorah's passing left behind a grieving wife and two young children. His wife, Meenakshi, expresses her disbelief that the government has not taken more decisive action to remove asbestos from hospitals, despite being aware of its dangers for years. In addition to the immense emotional toll on the family, financial compensation was awarded to cover the pain caused to Mr Ghoorah and the potential loss of earnings. 

However, no amount of compensation can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one.

But this is not just the story of one NHS nurse, but recent reports reveal that 90% of hospitals in the country are affected by this lethal material. Despite efforts to mitigate the risks associated with asbestos, its presence in healthcare facilities remains alarmingly high, leading to devastating consequences for those on the frontlines of patient care. Urgent action is needed to protect the health and well-being of NHS staff and to address this silent killer lurking in UK's hospitals.

With that, concerns about asbestos in dilapidated schools and hospitals have arisen. A new analysis reveals that nearly 150 health and education workers have recently died from cancer-related to asbestos exposure. The figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlight the urgent need to address the hazardous conditions of these buildings. With budgets for both sectors squeezed since the austerity drive began in 2010, the safety and well-being of teachers, nurses, and other professionals are at risk.

Official data indicates that 147 health and education workers have succumbed to mesothelioma, a form of cancer associated with prolonged asbestos exposure, since 2017. However, experts argue this figure is likely underestimated due to how death certificates record professions. The actual number of deaths could be significantly higher, reflecting the severity of the issue.

Asbestos, a notorious and hazardous substance, continues to pose a significant threat to the health and safety of National Health Service (NHS) staff in the United Kingdom. Even though the use of asbestos in construction materials was banned in the UK in 1999, the legacy of its extensive past use persists. Many older healthcare facilities were built using asbestos-containing materials, such as insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and pipe lagging. 

Over time, these materials deteriorate, releasing toxic asbestos fibres into the air, which anyone nearby can inhale. Asbestos poses severe health risks, particularly when its fibres are released and inhaled. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to chronic lung conditions or, worse, cancer. 

These diseases often have a long latency period, meaning symptoms may not manifest for several years or even decades after initial exposure. Tragically, NHS staff, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, who dedicate their lives to caring for others, are unknowingly putting themselves at risk of developing these life-threatening illnesses.

The analysis of death certificate data revealed that 94 education professionals and 53 healthcare professionals in England died from mesothelioma. 

Among the education professionals, 39 worked in primary and nursery schools, 21 in secondary schools, and 21 in further and higher education institutions. The remaining 13 included special educational needs staff, senior education professionals, and Ofsted inspectors. Of the healthcare professionals, 36 were nurses or midwives, two were therapists, and 15 were classified as "medical professionals," encompassing various roles such as doctors, psychologists, and radiographers.

The state of school and hospital buildings has become a growing concern within the NHS and among headteachers. Despite internal government documents suggesting that some school buildings posed a "risk to life" due to disrepair, the government has pressured Labour and other parties to release secret data on the condition of school buildings. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also launched inspections across Great Britain to assess how schools manage asbestos risks. However, there is a pressing need for further studies on the ongoing effects of asbestos on teachers and students.

Education unions and MPs emphasise the necessity of investing in school buildings to address the asbestos issue and ensure a safe and sustainable environment. Capital spending on school buildings has significantly declined since 2010, leaving a backlog of maintenance and neglecting the widespread presence of asbestos in schools. A major retrofitting program is required to remove asbestos from high-risk areas and secure the safety of education professionals and students.

The government, NHS authorities, and hospital management must take immediate and decisive action to protect the health and safety of NHS staff and patients. The first step is to conduct thorough surveys and risk assessments to identify and quantify the presence of asbestos in healthcare facilities. Based on these findings, a prioritised plan for safely removing and managing asbestos-containing materials must be developed and implemented swiftly.

Moreover, the importance of staff education and training cannot be overstated. All healthcare workers should be adequately informed about the dangers of asbestos and trained in handling situations where asbestos exposure may occur. Robust protocols and guidelines should be established to ensure that potential risks are managed effectively and minimised.

Addressing the asbestos issue within the NHS requires a significant financial investment from the government. 

Adequate funding should be allocated to facilitate the safe removal and replacement of asbestos-containing materials in hospitals. Additionally, the government must support ongoing research efforts to find innovative ways to identify and manage asbestos hazards effectively.

In response to the concerns raised, the government emphasises its commitment to public sector workers' health and safety. It asserts that local authorities, governing bodies, and academy trusts should have robust plans to manage asbestos effectively. Funding allocations of over £15 billion for essential maintenance and improvements, including asbestos removal, have been provided. Furthermore, plans are underway to rebuild or refurbish 500 buildings in the next decade. 

Additional funding of £4.2 billion last year and £8.4 billion over this and the next financial year have also been allocated to support the NHS in maintaining and refurbishing its premises.

Asbestos in schools and hospitals poses a grave risk to the health and safety of education and healthcare professionals. The alarming number of deaths from asbestos-related cancer demands urgent action to address the neglected state of these buildings. Adequate funding, thorough inspections, and a comprehensive plan for asbestos removal are essential to safeguard the well-being of those who work in the public sector. 

Policymakers must prioritise the safety of teachers, nurses, and other professionals, ensuring they are not exposed to this silent and deadly threat while carrying out their vital societal roles.



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