The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on the best way of supporting people with pleural plaques, but admits it is reluctant to change the law.
The consultation follows uproar among safety campaigners after the Law Lords ruled in October 2007 that sufferers of pleural plaques – areas of fibrosis that can develop in the pleura of the lung as a result of exposure to asbestos – could no longer lodge a claim for compensation under the civil law of negligence.
Although averse to suggestions that it should overturn the decision by changing the law of negligence, the Government is seeking comments on whether a change of the law is appropriate. The consultation also asks for views on the merits of offering no-fault financial support to people with pleural plaques, and how a scheme could work.
UCATT general secretary, Alan Ritchie, said such a scheme would act for the lowest denominator and prevent those with the worst symptoms from receiving adequate compensation. He added: “A scheme undermines the entire principle of identifying the employer’s liability and the fact that these workers should be entitled to compensation for injuries to their bodies, which were entirely avoidable.”
As part of awareness-raising proposals to allay sufferers’ concerns about the extent of the risk that they might develop an asbestos-related disease, the Government has suggested that a guidance note could be issued to doctors on what a diagnosis of pleural plaques would mean for patients. It believes that similar information could also be made available to hospitals, GPs’ surgeries, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, trades unions etc.
Pressure on the Government to overturn the Lords’ decision has been fuelled by the Scottish Cabinet’s decision to introduce a Bill to enable those negligently exposed to asbestos and who have diagnosed with pleural plaques to be able to continue to pursue actions for damages in Scotland.
Director of the Association of British Insurers, Nick Starling, said the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June, would “fly in the face of accepted medical opinion” that pleural plaques are “symptomless, do not impact on a person’s health, and do not develop into asbestos-related diseases”. Firmly of the view that education is the way forward, Starling said the Bill, which will be assigned to a committee review after MSPs return from their summer recess, “risks considerable damage to the Scottish economy”.
Published on 9 July, and open until 1 October, the consultation document can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.