Parts of the old Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham are likely to be mothballed for years because of fears over asbestos.
Most of the old hospital in Edgbaston becomes redundant this week to make way for the new £2.6 billion super hospital. But it has emerged that asbestos is embedded in the structure of the 1930s building and could cost millions of pounds to remove.
At a time of cost-cutting and thrift within the NHS, University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust chiefs have told union officials that they have no plans to renovate the site due to the huge costs involved.
Hospital workers have voiced concerns that wards now lying empty will not be adapted for better use because of the asbestos restrictions.
“The building is already outdated since it was built in the 1930s and it needs to be knocked down and rebuilt, but, as it will cost so much, trust managers are saying it will just lie empty instead,” said a health worker, who did not wish to be named to protect his job.
Rob Johnston, Unison West Midlands spokesman, said: “The trust is saying that it is prohibitively expensive to remove the asbestos.
“Therefore, they will undertake regular health and safety inspections to make sure everything is fine. There are no plans to remove it.
“The management has been open about the asbestos and if left in situ everything is safe.
“Unison is reassured that staff safety is of paramount concern but feels the management could help to dispel any anxieties by opening the asbestos log book to scrutiny.”
Nearly all inpatients at the QE were being moved into the new 1,213 bed Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the second phase of the move, which will be completed this week.
Transplant, renal dialysis and physiotherapy departments were moved through a link bridge.
Trust spokesman Gareth Duggan said: “No decisions have yet been made about the future of the old Queen Elizabeth Hospital and its associated buildings.
“Parts of the old QE vacated by clinical services will be locked down until a decision is made about their future.
“The costs will be determined as and when buildings are either refurbished or demolished.”
Mr Duggan explained that since the 1970s the majority of asbestos had been removed but there was still asbestos in the service ducts, encapsulated and sealed in line with asbestos regulations.
“The trust has an asbestos register and management control procedures to ensure there is no risk to staff, visitors or patients,” added Mr Duggan. “Any future development of the site will be determined on the merit of individual plans, not by any presence of asbestos.
“The vacation of the QE provides an exciting opportunity for the hospital to contribute to the continued regeneration of south Birmingham and the trust will be working with key stakeholders over the next 12 to 24 months to develop a plan for the site.”
The cost of carefully removing dangerous asbestos fibres, linked to lung disease mesothelioma if inhaled, can be in the millions.
Birmingham City Council was quoted a bill of £1.8million this year to repair asbestos disturbed in Sutton Coldfield Library after it was shut down in May.
Workplace illness expert Satinder Bains, from Birmingham law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “We have seen an increase in the number of cases where staff have been exposed to asbestos dust and fibres on hospital premises, and almost daily, we hear of asbestos being found during refurbishment works.
“Asbestos removal has become a big business with thousands of asbestos removal specialists available to remove asbestos.”
Asbestos becomes a danger when disturbed, often through maintenance work. It can lie dormant for decades but still be fatal.