Any serious sickness or death is a sad thing, but when it is caused by someone’s profession it is even more tragic and unjust. What makes it worse is the Government’s unfair system of compensation.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of organs, often caused by exposure to asbestos.
More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with it each year in the UK.
Current evidence suggests that around 85% of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed in men are attributable to asbestos exposures that occurred through work.
Workers who have the highest risk of exposure to asbestos are those who deal with buildings – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and builders. Another is shipyard workers.
Due to the large number of people who worked in our shipyards, the incidence of mesothelioma is high in our region, with 364 deaths in South Tyneside due to mesothelioma between 1981 and 2015. North Tyneside has the third highest rate of male mesothelioma deaths in the UK and South Tyneside the fourth.
My grandad, John Richardson, suffered from asbestosis, which is a serious long-term lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.
People with asbestosis also have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions, such as: pleural disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Those diagnosed with mesothelioma usually have a short life expectancy, with only half of people living more than a year after their diagnosis.
Most people who are diagnosed are between the ages of 60 and 80, due to the long latency period of the disease, which means that 30 years or more can pass from the time of exposure to the disease becoming apparent.
A mesothelioma sufferer may be able to make a claim for compensation in a civil court against their employer who should be covered by insurance, however, there are time limits for bringing claims making some ineligible for civil claims.
Labour has fought hard over the years for victims of mesothelioma. In 2010, we launched a consultation on the payment programme and, as a result, in 2014 the Government introduced the Mesothelioma Act which created the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS).
The Government also offers some compensation under the 2008 scheme. However, the amount that people receive depends on several factors. One of the eligibility criteria of the schemes is that victims can’t have claimed payment for the disease from anyone else. This is unfair on those who received modest payments for pleural plaques years ago and are now excluded from further compensation.
Those who worked hard in our shipyards for the sake of the country should not be penalised due to the ignorance and negligence of years gone by.
My Grandad, who sadly is no longer with us, and others affected by this horrendous and miserable illness deserve justice.
I will continue fighting the Government on behalf of my constituents and their families who have, through no fault of their own, fallen victim to this avoidable condition.