There was hopeful news for sufferers of pleural plaques who reside in England and Wales as an Early Day Motion to formally call for a debate in Parliament was proposed by Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, at the very end of 2012, and which was also signed by a total of 29 MPs.
Aimed at drawing attention to lack of asbestos compensation in England and Wales for pleural plaques and calls on the government to “…reassess its stance on access to compensation for people suffering pleural plaques caused by exposure to asbestos and allow sufferers to sue their employers where there is proven negligence.”
In 2007, the House of Lords ruled that mesothelioma compensation was no longer to be awarded to individuals diagnosed with pleural plaques, but in 2009, the Scottish Government passed the Damages Act, which disagreed with the House of Lords ruling despite being contested by several insurance companies claiming it breached specific provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Following a breakthrough ruling by the UK Supreme Court in Summer 2011 for those living in Scotland who were, once again, allowed to make an asbestosis claim for pleural plaques, just a few weeks later, Northern Ireland was also able to proceed with compensation for pleural plaques sufferers.
The current Early Day Motion not only seeks to bring back the claims process for pleural plaques to those living in England and Wales but also asks the Government to adopt the same position taken in Scotland, which allows a mesothelioma claim under civil law in circumstances where the condition was caused by employer negligence.
It is known that around 50 per cent of all those who are exposed to asbestos will develop pleural plaques, a fibrous scarring to the outer lining of the lungs. While usually symptomless, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “There are likely to be substantially more individuals in the population with pleural plaques than those identified by chest physicians.”
In England and Wales, asbestos fibres were widely used in insulation products and processes, most particularly in the former heavy industrial centres of the north of England, the Midlands and the shipyards of Scotland and South East England. Disregard or lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks led to thousands of exposed workers to breathe in the asbestos fibre dust, but asbestosis symptoms would only emerge after a gestation period lasting up to 50 years from initial exposure.
Although not harmful and non-cancerous, pleural plaques are almost always present in patients with asbestos-related disease and often found in patients also suffering with mesothelioma.
The Royal Courts of Justice have stated that the number of asbestosis claim cases has more than doubled from 574 in 2007 to 1,164 in 2010.