A levy to fund future mesothelioma research into finding a cure for the fatal and currently incurable asbestos-related cancer, was significantly not part of the recent Mesothelioma Bill agreed at the recent parliamentary third reading, and due to pass into law in July 2014.

Disappointment has been expressed by WE Solicitors and many others over the limitations of the Bill, which restricts both eligibility and the amount payable for mesothelioma compensation. Of equal concern was the failure to secure “sustainable future funding” for research, which has led to calls for the issue to be relooked at.

Following a letter signed by 13 members of both Houses and all parties stressing the importance of increasing mesothelioma research, Lord Alton of Liverpool led a short debate at the House of Lords.

A former LibDem MP for Liverpool Edge Hill, Lord Alton opened the debate by declaring his concern over hearing Mike Penning, Minister of State at the DWP say at the third reading of the Mesothlioma Bill that he “cannot break the deal”, which excluded a statutory research levy on the insurance industry, in order to get the Mesothelioma Bill through both Houses. He hoped ministers would look again at the question.

“Small sums would save tens of thousands of lives”

According to Lord Alton, even “small sums would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, which would save tens of thousands of lives”, adding that there are an “estimated 150 insurance firms …a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.

The practical and moral case for the industry having a duty to fund mesothelioma research, and the Government’s responsibility to ensure that it does, is abundantly clear.”

Emphasising the “huge benefits to the health of the nation if the insurance industry were to invest in research, it was highlighted that while researchers have no shortage of ideas towards finding a cure, there was not enough funding. A persistent challenge exists over current asbestosis treatments, which provide some pain relief and a modest increase in life expectancy but cannot actually cure the disease.

Government to set up meetings with insurers

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison pointed out that 2,238 people were diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011, underlining that “research was a national issue” and “£2.3million of funding for mesothelioma research was spent in 2013 through the NHR.” In addition, Ms Ellison said that the Government was looking at setting up meetings with the Association of British Insurers and the British Lung Foundation to consider how insurers could help to fund research.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a Welsh doctor and professor of palliative medicine told the attendees that “60 per cent of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are dead within a year” and said she wanted to focus on three essential areas of mesothelioma research that needed funding – finding the “triggers” of the disease, investigating a “genetic element” and discovering if a “tumour marker” exists for early mesothelioma diagnosis.

After several further contributions the hour long debate was concluded by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Earl Howe, who said, “the issue holding back progress into research into mesothelioma is not (as suggested) a lack of funding but the lack of sufficient research applications…measures are needed to stimulate an increase in the level of research activity.”

Earl Howe, added that both the Government and the industry “recognise the potential for insurers individually to sponsor specific research infrastructure or projects in mesothelioma..” and to this end, the “government has made a commitment to convene a meeting of leading researchers to discuss and develop new proposals for studies.”