Independent review to look into asbestos concerns at Shropshire hospital trust

The chairman of the trust which runs Shropshire's two main hospitals has commissioned an independent review, following allegations it failed to properly investigate concerns around asbestos exposure.

Royal Shrewsbury Hospital
Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

Whistleblower Les Small was sacked by Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) after raising concerns, and later won a tribunal ruling that he had been unfairly dismissed in 2012.

He was a project manager in the trust’s estates department and had reported suspected asbestos in nursing accommodation at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, fearing workmen could be exposed.

The trust was prosecuted and told to pay £34,000 earlier this year, after admitting two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

In a letter from the Care Quality Commission, deputy chief inspector of hospitals Nigel Acheson has now confirmed the matter will be the subject of an independent review.

It comes after Mr Small wrote to the CQC calling for an independent investigation into how the trust had handled the asbestos concerns, and what he described as the 'bullying culture' which led to him being sacked for raising the issues.

Les Small

Responding to him, Mr Acheson said: "We are writing to inform you that the chair of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust has confirmed that he has commissioned an independent review of the concerns you have raised."

Ben Reid, chairman of the trust, also confirmed the review would be carried out, and added: "We are always looking to improve the way we do things and examine if there are any lessons we can learn."

Mr Small, 62, of Wellington, said he was pleased but also had some reservations.

He said: "People need to be held accountable. I'm pleased they have decided to do it but I question their motives.

"My hope is this is an independent inquiry and they want to find out exactly what happened."

In May, Telford Magistrates Court heard workers at SaTH were removing fixtures and fittings from an empty flat at the RSH when they disturbed asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

It happened in June 2012 but the trust, which runs RSH and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, then failed to take adequate measures to deal with the initial release of asbestos, exposing other contractors who later worked in the flat.

Investigation

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the trust did not properly record ACM on its estate.

SaTH had arrangements in place to manage asbestos but the overall management plan for dealing with it was not recorded in a clear and concise manner or effectively communicated to workers, the HSE said.

The trust had insufficient auditing procedures to ensure that the arrangements contained in the policy and management plan were fully implemented, working properly and effective.

The procedures in place upon the discovery of asbestos were inadequate and SaTH failed to prevent re-entry into the contaminated area by other workers.

The trust was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,385.80.

Hospital bosses said disciplinary hearings took place as a result of an investigation and changes were made.

Actions

Speaking earlier this year, Julia Clarke, director of corporate governance at SaTH, said since the issue was raised seven years ago the trust had worked closely with the HSE.

She said: “The investigation we carried out into this matter at the time confirmed that, although policies were in place at the trust, they were not always being followed.

“There were a number of disciplinary hearings that took place as a result of the investigation.

“A number of actions were taken to put new systems and processes in place to ensure there is now a much more robust approach to asbestos management across the trust.

“Magistrates recognised that nobody had come to harm as a result of this issue and that we had taken action to remedy the situation.

"They also recognised our outstanding co-operation throughout.”

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