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Asbestos costs Dunedin Hospital $5.5m

The cost of dealing with asbestos has reached almost $5.5 million at Dunedin Hospital as an internal report reveals it took at least 10 days to change a light fitting.The financial figure provided by the Southern District Health Board includes almost $2million for a retrofitted air-conditioning system in the radiology department.

It is needed because the ceiling area cannot be accessed to service the air conditioning.

The figure reflects the cost of dealing with the problem since an October 2015 asbestos scare.

Released under the Official Information Act, building and property reports from earlier this year show pressure on staff, safety concerns, urgent requests for funding and support, and warnings of clinical disruption. Staff were monitoring dozens of affected areas, and in some cases struggled to cover their other duties. The reports reveal the air testing result in the now off-limits records room at the hospital was 75% positive. A light failed in part of an operating theatre. It would normally be fixed in an hour or less.

“Due to asbestos precautions such as building and testing a three-stage decontamination tent for access, the repair has so far taken 10 days.”

The work was mainly done out of hours.

“However, in the future there may be repairs which simply cannot be completed due to access issues, or areas which need to close because the faulty equipment is essential to the operation of that area.

“Those delays … cause additional cost, work for [building] staff and disruption to hospital departments.”

The reports talk about safety concerns for staff working in full protective gear in hot, asbestos-affected plant rooms. The building and property team requested funding to decontaminate the plant rooms, which was approved.

“Failure to undertake this work will impact on several other DHB projects, including critical electrical upgrades.”

A temporary tunnel had been constructed in one plant room to enable safe access to the helipad for  staff to transfer patients. The facilities team leader was “basically working full-time on asbestos management”, leaving  little time for other work.

Yesterday, chief executive Chris Fleming said senior staff were considering recommendations in  an independent review of its handling of asbestos.  It was likely to lead to improvements. He was not ready to release the report, but would in due course. Mr Fleming said it was not feasible to move or copy the records, and access was managed on a case-by-case basis.

“The records room remains a very difficult problem to have, because there are so many records in there.”


Published by Eileen Goodwin ODT 

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