Asbestos in hospital puts patients and staff at risk
Patients and staff may have been contaminated with potentially lethal asbestos fibres while working in or visiting the pathology unit at Alice Springs Hospital.
The Northern Territory Department of Health has confirmed the unit was this week closed indefinitely after asbestos was detected in air samples.
The Central Australian Health Service said in a statement that the building in which the pathology unit was housed had been “secured pending removal of asbestos”.
“The most recent air sampling and swab testing for asbestos in the pathology building has returned a low positive result, following minor works over the weekend,” the statement said.
“The Department of Health has engaged a licensed asbestos removalist to assess the problem and develop a remediation plan and NT Worksafe is providing advice on the matter.”
The Weekend Australian understands the positive tests occurred after workmen doing renovations last week disturbed asbestos in a ceiling cavity.
The pathology unit was not closed until early this week, leaving a several-day window in which an unknown number of patients and staff may have been contaminated.
Territory agencies are scrambling to identify those at risk, with formal statements to hospital staff and the public expected to go out this morning.
The pathology unit, which conducts hundreds of thousands of tests annually, services the entire central Australian region.
While alternative arrangements are being made to ensure pathological services can continue with the help of other hospitals and an external provider, the future of millions of dollars worth of potentially contaminated equipment is unclear.
The pathology building is one of the oldest on the hospital campus. No other areas are known to be affected. Only patients and staff who visited the pathology unit between Friday of last week and Tuesday of this week are believed to be at risk. It is unclear why the presence of asbestos was not detected earlier.