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November 25, 2011

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Welsh hospital under further asbestos-management scrutiny

The Welsh Government has launched an independent review into the management of asbestos at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth.

The hospital failed to implement effective controls to manage asbestos after a survey in 2004 found the substance in stairwells and lift shafts. The unsafe practices, which required maintenance workers to operate in these areas, continued until 2009, when they were quickly identified by the hospital’s new Health Board and reported to the HSE.

However, the HSE was powerless to pursue a prosecution over the asbestos breaches because of a legislative error, which failed to ensure that issues of previous corporate criminal responsibility were transferred to the Hywel Dda Local Health Board when it was created – along with six others – in 2009, as part of NHS reforms in Wales.

The chief executive of NHS Wales, David Sissling, has now commissioned an independent review into the management of asbestos at the hospital, so that lessons can be learned for the wider organisation. The review will be undertaken alongside the ongoing investigation by the HSE and the internal inquiry by the Health Board.  

Announcing the Government’s review yesterday (24 November), Mr Sissling said: “I felt that it was important to instigate this review to see if there are lessons that can be learnt in the handling of asbestos, both specifically for Bronglais Hospital and also, more broadly, for the NHS in Wales.”

“Once we have the findings and recommendations, I will consider what further action will be required if any.”

The independent review will seek to:

  • identify the key events between 2004 and 2009 that contributed to the issues in relation to the management of asbestos;
  • evaluate the key events and identify any significant shortcomings in relevant actions, or inactions;
  • review the actions of Hywel Dda Local Health Board in its response to the HSE’s investigation, and consider if further actions are required to ensure that appropriate systems and processes are in place;
  • recommend the key lessons to be learned by NHS Wales; and
  • consider further appropriate processes or actions on any significant corporate or individual managerial failings.

A spokesperson for Hywel Dda Health Board said: “We will fully cooperate with this review, as we have done with the HSE since this matter came to light. Significant work has already been undertaken to ensure asbestos is effectively managed across all our premises.”

The review will be conducted by Clive Grace, former director-general for the Audit Commission Wales and chief executive of Torfaen County Borough Council. A final report on the findings and recommendations of the independent review will be submitted to the Mr Sissling by 30 January 2012.

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