Nurse exposed to deadly asbestos in hospital tunnels
A NURSE who dedicated her life to helping others died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos lining the tunnels in the hospitals she trained in, an inquest heard.
Shirley Burns, 71, of Grimsby Road, Waltham, died in May at St Andrew's Hospice, Grimsby, after doctors told her there was nothing they could do to help her beat the incurable lung disease.
The district coroner for North East Lincolnshire, Paul Kelly, overruled consultant pathologist Dr William Peters who, following a post-mortem examination, said the mesothelioma was the "rare and spontaneous" result of natural causes.
Instead, Mr Kelly, said he believed it was the result of exposure to asbestos – and therefore industrially related – after hearing Mrs Burns worked in the London training hospitals.
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Mr Kelly said: "In the past two or three weeks, the link coroners throughout the country keep in touch with has been quite active with reports of people suffering from mesothelioma and it being traced back to some of the London teaching hospitals – in particular, the tunnels the staff used.
"There is a proven link between asbestos used in these tunnels and later incidents of mesothelioma."
The hospitals hit the national press recently after a number of cases concerning hospital staff dying from mesothelioma came through coroners' courts.
The common link appears to be the tunnels used by doctors and nurses to get from one area of the hospital to another.
Mrs Burns, wife of Peter for 36 years and mother to two sons, Antony and Karl Leeming, was born in Louth and trained as a nurse in Grimsby's Spring Field Hospital before completing her training in London's Royal Brompton Hospital.
During this time she lived with her best friend and the pair would walk through tunnels while at work. She described them as dirty and dusty with insulated piping running around them.
Mr Burns was surprised at the verdict after speculating with his wife before her death that she may have been exposed to asbestos while travelling and living in Australia on a ten-bob ticket.
He paid tribute to his wife, describing her as a "a great woman" who was "worldly and well travelled".
He said: "She had a wonderful life. It is just so sad that after spending her whole life caring for others, something like that gets her.
"Seeing her deteriorate and knowing she was going to go was the hardest thing.
"I had been dealing with my wife's illness for some time and her death was inevitable. The problem for me now, is knowing why she died brings everything back.
"Tonight I will have to ring her friend who she trained with and tell her why she got mesothelioma. It is a difficult thing to go through."
Recording a verdict of industrial-related disease, Mr Kelly said: "In view of the material relating to mesothelioma arising in those who worked in London teaching hospitals and the fact spontaneous cases as Dr Peters describes in his findings are incredibly rare, it is more likely mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos used in the teaching hospitals when she worked in London."