Concern as Sunderland named mesothelioma blackspot

John Birkett from Washington has developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as an apprentice shipwright

John Birkett from Washington has developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as an apprentice shipwright

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MORE people are dying from mesothelioma in Sunderland than almost anywhere else in the UK.

Alarming new figures reveal death rates in the city are twice the average for the rest of the country.

Now, Wearside sufferers and carers are calling for more to be done to address the high numbers in desperate need of support and compensation.

Across Sunderland 105 people died from the condition between 2008 and 2012.

This year the Government announced a Mesothelioma Bill which aims to help those struggling to get compensation from former employers or insurers.

But, with such a high number of sufferers concentrated in Wearside – particularly Washington, calls for more help have now been made.

John Birkett, 66, was diagnosed in December 2011, undergoing chemotherapy last year.

The former shipyard worker was exposed to asbestos during his years working in the industry, having first started out as a 15-year-old apprentice.

The grandfather, from Washington, said: “More needs to be done to make sure it is the sufferers who are looked after rather than the insurance companies.

“This is a condition which lies dormant in the body for years ‑ for me it was 45 years. So we will hear about more and more people contracting it.”

Chemotherapy has helped shrink the tumour close to John’s spine but he knows he faces more treatment in the future.

Anne Craig, 63, decided more needed to be done to support those suffering from the condition after her husband, David, died just six months after he was diagnosed.

David was just 54-year-old and had worked with David Birkett in the shipyards.

Devastated by her husband’s death, Anne established the Mesothelioma Self-Help Group based in Washington.

She said: “When my husband died there was no support and no one knew anything about the condition - not even the doctors.

“There is a lot of work being done now to support those most in need but there is still a long way to go. While we have more research and treatments than ever before, the insurers are still trying different ways to avoid paying compensation. There are always loopholes they are trying to use and the Government needs to close these.”

The average the number of mesothelioma deaths per 100,000 people for 2008-2012 in England is 2.6. Sunderland’s mortality rate is 5.2, more than twice the national average.

It is estimated that 300 people a year receive no civil compensation despite their diagnosis because their former employer’s insurers cannot be traced.

Washington is believed to have such a high number of sufferers after some workers at the former asbestos manufacturer Turner and Newall – which owned the former Washington Chemical Company factory – were exposed to the deadly dust.