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Action: Mesothelioma

Asbestos diseases lawyer Steven Dickens on why, on Action Mesothelioma Day 2018, the need for action on this asbestos-related disease is greater than ever as numbers of those dying from the disease still continue to rise

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Steve Dickens is an experienced asbestos, lung cancer and mesothelioma claims solicitor.
In 2006 victims, support groups, healthcare professionals and lawyers signed a 15 point charter and held the first national Action Mesothelioma Day.

Figures produced by the Health and Safety Executive at the time showed 1978 people had died from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2004.

The disease, a malignant lung disease which results mainly from exposure to asbestos, was responsible for killing somebody every five hours in the UK. The peak of the epidemic was estimated at the time at being reached in 2015.

The “action” that was demanded in 2006 involved making mesothelioma a “national priority” and funding “good quality research”.

Now, as we mark the 13th Action Mesothelioma Day with a nationwide series of events on Friday 6th July 2018, the HSE have reported this week that the number of people who lost their lives to mesothelioma in 2016 was 2595.

Since the 2006 call for Action over 2000 people have died from mesothelioma in Great Britain every year.

The upward trend in the number of people who lose their lives to this man made illness shows no sign of slowing down.

Figures from HSE, Mesothelioma in Great Britain showing annual deaths and cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB).

In the 13 years that have passed since the initial call for Action on mesothelioma the HSE have amended their predictions as to when the peak of the epidemic will be reached.

In 2012 the numbers of deaths that were being recorded was already at a level that the statistical model had envisaged would be arrived at by 2018. Whilst the HSE remain of the view that a peak will be reached it now considers that the peak may not be reached until some point in the next decade.

It’s statistical model suggests that we are unlikely to see the numbers of annual mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain fall to their pre-2006 level of below 2,000 per annum for perhaps a further 15-20 years.

The reasons as to why numbers of mesothelioma deaths continues to rise beyond expectations is unknown. However, the experience of specialist asbestos lawyers and advisors is that the sources of exposure may well have been underestimated in the statistical modelling.

The suggestion that exposure would have declined following the 1969 Asbestos Regulations or the 1987 Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations takes little account of the exposures to asbestos of those in “secondary “ trades such as joiners, plumbers and electricians who continued to disturb asbestos left in situ on buildings constructed in the 1950s and 1960s for many years.

It also takes little account of an often lax and laissez faire attitude taken by many employers to appropriate protection for employees.

The call for Action on mesothelioma has seen some breakthroughs. Mesothelioma UK was launched in 2004 with financial support from Macmillan and the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund. As a charitable organisation it goes from strength to strength working alongside the NHS to provide the best standards of care for mesothelioma patients.

It has recently appointed its 18th Mesothelioma Clinical Nurse Specialist in the UK, with plans to recruit more The role of Mesothelioma UK in administering and providing information and support in relation to clinical trials is vital.

As at June 2018 there were 11 available clinical trials currently recruiting according to the Mesothelioma UK website. Anyone with a longstanding interest in mesothelioma will identify that there has rarely been a time when as much research was being carried out.

The Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups was established in 2005 as an umbrella for the network of local asbestos victims support groups. These groups provide first line help and assistance to those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and assist with applications for welfare benefits and other important practical advice, as well as providing much needed support.

The Forum plays a vital role in campaigning on behalf of asbestos victims. With our assistance the Forum, represented by it’s chairperson Graham Dring, recently intervened in a significant case between insurers and a major historical producer of asbestos products to try to prevent documents held by the company from being destroyed.

Both organisations dovetail, and continue to go from strength to strength. However, both organisations remain funded largely by charitable donations. More could and should be done to make them and the provision of research the “priority” that was demanded in 2006.

In 2008 only £820,000 per annum was being invested into mesothelioma research, and whilst that figure was increased with a significant package of investment in 2016 the figures being invested remain inadequate and significantly lower than the figures invested by the government into research into other cancers.

As such, the call for Action remains as valid now in 2018 as it did 13 years ago.

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