Patients taken into the pathology unit of the Alice Springs Hospital before it was shut down due to asbestos contamination have not been told that they may have been exposed to the toxic substance, the Central Australian Health Service says.
The service received a report on Friday that there was a “minimal risk” to people in the working area of the pathology lab of contamination.
General manager Naomi Heinrich also confirmed the pathology unit was kept open for several days after a contractor reported finding asbestos in the ceiling.
The service said it had contacted its own staff who were potentially exposed to the substance, but confirmed it had not contacted around 60 patients who had visited the building for pathology work.
The director of medical services, Sam Goodwin, defended the choice not to contact patients who were in the pathology lab between the asbestos report being made and the shutting of the lab.
“It’s vital that we give the right advice at the right time in a way that people can know it,” Mr Goodwin said.
“It’s not helpful that we would make a frenzy or make panic and worry by virtue of contacting people without the information that they need to make informed choices.”
Health service not sure on time taken to close lab
Ms Heinrich said no asbestos was disturbed by the contractor or anyone else, but said she “would need to confirm” how long it took between the asbestos being reported and the choice to shut down the pathology unit.
“We followed the advice of expert hygienists, expert licensed asbestos removalists and make decisions based on that,” she said.
“The choice was made in absolute collaboration with NT Work Safe who have provided support to us along the process.
“[The contractor] didn’t start disturbing the asbestos, it was around the preliminary work that was undertaken.
“A sample was taken to test, the sample did indicate there was asbestos containing material, we took the precautionary measure to remove patients and staff from the building, undertake significant further sampling to test the building, to ensure its safety.”
Alice Springs will be without its own pathology services for the foreseeable future, with a private pathology service being used to pick up the slack.
“We have limited access to pathology that’s essential,” Dr Goodwin said.
“The primary limitation really is around time to result.”
Dr Goodwin said semi-urgent results were being sent 500 kilometres away to Tennant Creek, while routine tests were being sent to Darwin or Adelaide.
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