A CAUTIOUS welcome has been given to news that Sunderland mesothelioma sufferers will be able to claim compensation worth up to £123,000.
More people die from the condition in the city than almost anywhere else in the UK.
Now, under a new scheme, the Government has announced from this month that anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma since July 2012 will be able to apply for compensation.
The families of loved ones will also be able to apply posthumously.
Across Sunderland, 105 people died from the condition between 2008 and 2012.
Mike Penning, minister of state for work and pensions, said: “This scheme represents a major breakthrough for the many victims of this terrible disease.
“Politicians and the insurance industry have for years ignored the plight of the innocent victims of this awful disease. It will end years of injustice that has left many tragic victims and their families high and dry.”
While the shipbuilding industry in Sunderland brought with it jobs and opportunities for thousands, many did not know about the hidden dangers.
Exposure to asbestos has gone on to affect thousands of lives. Despite being banned in 1999, people are still living with the toxic effects.
Almost 400 people in Sunderland have lost their lives over the past 30 years to the aggressive cancer.
Until now, sufferers have at best scraped a few thousand pounds from statutory schemes.
By striking a deal with the insurance industry, the Government say they have secured substantially higher support packages that will help 800 people or their families in 2014 – and 300 every year after that.
They will also get £7,000 towards legal expenses.
Anne Craig, 63, decided more needed to be done to support those suffering from the condition after her husband, David, died six months after he was diagnosed.
David was 54 and had worked in the shipyards.
Anne now runs the Mesothelioma Self-Help Group based in Washington. She said: “This is a significant breakthrough.
However, I would like this to be rolled out across the board and not just for those diagnosed post-2012.
“It’s important people are able to claim compensation but there will be many who are not covered by this scheme.”
The average number of mesothelioma deaths per 100,000 people for 2008-2012 in England is 2.6. Sunderland’s mortality rate is 5.2, twice the national average.
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.
JOHN Birkett, 67, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2011, undergoing chemotherapy in 2012.
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: “I was lucky because I got my compensation a few years back through Thompson’s solicitors.
“While today’s news is good, it would be nice to see compensation available for everybody.
“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.”
John will attend his quarterly doctors appointment to assess his current condition. He said: “I’m a bit short of breath at the minute so I’ll be seeing the oncologist on Wednesday.”
Chemotherapy has helped shrink the tumour close to John’s spine but he knows he faces more treatment in the future.