Asbestos Exposure in Hospital Led to Doctor’s Death

The death of a London doctor has been officially attributed to mesothelioma caused by asbestos he was exposed to at the hospital he worked at, a new report has determined.

Dr. Richard Pengelly Ashfield, a 78-year-old Dorset, England man who worked in a number of hospitals from the 1960s until his retirement in 1995, passed away from mesothelioma last June from sarcomatoid mesothelioma, according to

As part of the autopsy process, coroner Michael Johnston factored in conversations he had with Ashfield’s daughter in which she remembered her father talking about asbestos dust he would regularly encounter while working at London’s Westminster Hospital. Johnston said that Ashfield had likely been describing old underground passageways used by hospital workers that contained flaking asbestos on the walls.

“I accept the cause of his death as being sarcomatoid mesothelioma and there is a possibility here of Dr. Ashfield being exposed to asbestos while working at the London hospitals,” Johnston said during an inquest into Dr. Ashfield’s death. “This is a rare cancer and in a very, very high percentage of cases it is due to exposure to asbestos. I shall record a verdict that he has died from an industrial related disease.”

Ashfield worked at a number of London-area hospitals between 1962 and 1968, and he is not the first doctor from that time period who worked in that area and eventually was diagnosed and killed by mesothelioma. Doctors John Brian Chapman and James Emerson both died of mesothelioma decades after working in London’s Middlesex Hospital during the 1960s.

While Dr. Emerson’s family successfully launched a lawsuit that won them £1.15 million in damages, Dr. Chapman’s family – as well as the family of Dr. Ashfield – chose not to pursue damages.

This story is yet another example of how prevalent the use of asbestos was around the world for much of the 20th Century. Here’s hoping that doctors – and hospital patients, for that matter – in the U.S. do not have to worry about similar problems afflicting them as well.