What is the Government doing about mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is one of the biggest killers in the UK, and statistics are set to peak over the next 10 to 15 years as the disease has a long incubation period. Swept under the carpet for years, the problem of the 'Silent Killer' (as the disease has become known) has recently received much higher public exposure with the successful conclusion of a court case centred on which insurance policy providers were liable to pay out in the event of a victim developing the disease - the insurers covering the company at the time of exposure or the insurers involved at the time of diagnosis. The 'trigger case' lasted for nine weeks in 2008, and was regarded by specialist lawyers (solicitors) representing the families of mesothelioma victims as a landmark in how the courts would regard claims brought against former employers for injuries or illness as a direct result of exposure to asbestos.
The profile for this preventable industrial disease has been raised further by the decision to make February 27th 2008 as Action Mesothelioma Day. The day was marked by events throughout the UK with the purpose of raising awareness in the media and with the public of the disease. An international conference discussed advances in the treatment of mesothelioma. John Edwards, Consultant Thoracic Surgeon and chair of the British Mesothelioma Interest Group, who addressed the conference said: "Researchers are desperate for funds to develop life saving treatments. Mesothelioma is far and away the least researched of the top twenty cancers in the UK. Funding for a UK National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases is a priority. Such a virtual institution would encourage collaboration and stimulate research to generate future treatments to prolong and save lives."
The Government has recognized that the ongoing problem of mesothelioma is one that has not subsided over time. Although the use of asbestos as a building material has been banned for over 20 years, there are still thousands of public buildings - in particular schools - that still have asbestos as part of their main structures. Although the asbestos has been coated with a protective layer of silicon to prevent dust escaping into the atmosphere, any damage to this layer could result in deadly dust being released. Those involved in the ongoing battle against the disease also fear that plumbers, electricians and other maintenance workers are at risk from exposure as they work on older properties that still contain asbestos.
Unite and other trade unions, health professionals, mesothelioma patients' asbestos support groups and Michael Clapham MP, chair All Party Asbestos sub committee, are leading the proposal for the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases. The development group has wide support and has met the Prime Minister's special advisor on health in Downing Street, the national director for cancer and the minister for health with responsibility for cancer. The meeting was seen as a step forward by all parties indicating that the government takes the problem of mesothelioma seriously. The campaign is calling on the government to provide funding for a National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease to keep the UK in line with other western countries. The Australian government has already provided $6.2 million to fund a National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease. British sufferers and support groups are asking the government to match this funding , around £5 to 10 million, to provide a similar centre in the UK.
As the profile of this industrial disease is raised, the hope amongst specialist solicitors representing families of the victims of mesothelioma is that the long battle for compensation that many families face will become easier, ensuring that victims receive the compensation they deserve.