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Welsh NHS managers escape asbestos liability

12 Aug 11 A shake up of the NHS in Wales two years ago has left new health boards free of liability for asbestos failings of the previous regime.

Construction union Ucatt says that, simply because of legislative errors, any negligent NHS managers in Wales who exposed workers to asbestos are immune from criminal proceedings.

The problem came to light after it was revealed that senior managers at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, failed to take proper action after a survey in 2004 found Amosite (brown asbestos) in stair wells and lift shafts. A number of former employees at the hospital have died of asbestos related conditions.

The legislative problem is a result of errors in the drafting of regulations, Ucatt says, which enabled the creation of seven NHS health boards in October 2009. The regulations failed to ensure that matters of previous corporate criminal responsibility were transferred to the seven new health boards.

As a result of these errors, the Health & Safety Executive cannot undertake criminal proceedings against the hospital for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos.

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Ucatt is already aware of similar issues relating to asbestos at another NHS Trust in Wales.

The union has written to Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones demanding an inquiry into how the legislative blunder occurred and calling for action to reverse the problem.

The union’s regional secretary, Nick Blundell, said: “This is an intolerable situation. Workers have been systematically exposed to asbestos and yet they will be denied justice due to a bureaucratic muddle. Carwyn Jones needs to act quickly to resolve these problems in order to restore confidence among workers.”

While the problem with the regulations affects criminal proceedings it does not directly affect civil matters. Workers whose health has been damaged by exposure to asbestos will still be able to seek compensation.

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