Doctor in U.K. Dies after Hospital Asbestos Exposure

The Western Gazette reports Dr. Richard Pengelly Ashfield recently succumbed to mesothelioma, which he developed through asbestos exposure at his London hospital workplaces. According to the article, Dr. Ashfield, 78, “worked for many years as a consultant at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester before retiring in 1995.” The Gazette explains Dr. Ashfield “had been employed at a number of London hospitals between 1962 and 1968 where it is believed he was exposed to the lethal substance.” The story goes on to explain that Dr. Ashfield’s daughter, Dr. Rebecca Ashfield, said that “he had recalled encountering asbestos dust during his time working at Westminster Hospital in London.” The coroner, Michael Johnson, went on to explain that Dr. Ashfield described the underground passages he took between the hospital buildings, recalling that the old hospitals often had asbestos flaking off, depositing a layer of dust throughout the facility. Asbestos is most dangerous as a dust because it can easily be inhaled. After inhalation, these fibers secure themselves in the mesothelium, which is the tissue surrounding organs, eventually leading to the development of mesothelioma cancer. However, this cancer remains especially devastating because of the long latency period of the disease. The time lapse between Dr. Ashfield’s retirement in 1995 and his death from mesothelioma in June 2010 highlights the long latency period of this particular disease. Mesothelioma can lay dormant for decades, typically remaining asymptomatic for a period of 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. The article goes on to explain that Dr. Ashfield’s death is reminiscent of Dr. John Brian Chapman’s, who succumbed to mesothelioma on June 6, 2009. The Western Gazette further explains that “An inquest ruled that his death was caused by exposure to asbestos while he was working at the Middlesex Hospital in Camden, London, in the 1950s,” highlighting a latency period even longer than Dr. Ashfield’s. Even when they do appear, symptoms of this cancer initially seem relatively minor, mimicking those of less serious illnesses. Because patients generally only recognize mesothelioma in its later stages, treatment options are generally not effective as they are limited and often only meant to provide palliative care. Family members of both Dr. Ashfield and Dr. Chapman indicated that they currently have no wish to seek damages for the deaths. The Western Gazette goes on to explain that Rebecca Ashfield said her father “‘had a very full life and he spent most of it helping other people. He was a dedicated doctor and it is very sad that he died from a disease he got from a place where he worked. We do not blame anyone, but it is very sad.’” References: Western Gazette Staff Writer. (January 13, 2011) “Doctor died after inhaling asbestos dust in hospital.” Retrieved on January 31, 2011 from the Western Gazette. Previous: Essential Virginia Government Building Contains Asbestos Next: Mississippi Asbestos Bill Dies in Committee