Tag Archives: Lord Alton

Flawed information on mesothelioma research funding provided by the government

Mesothelioma research funding remained on the UK Parliamentary radar right up until the dissolving of Parliament on March 30th. An attempt by Mike Kane MP to amend the Mesothelioma Act via a Private Members Bill in order to introduce a research funding levy came to nothing when all outstanding Parliamentary business was terminated with the dissolving of Parliament.

An answer to a Parliamentary written question posed by Lord Wigley on what public sector funding there has been for mesothelioma research over the last 10 years, resulted in a curious response from the government on March 25th. In the time available to respond to the question the government stated that it had only been possible to go back over the previous six years, and in respect to funding provided by the Medical Research Council, the main medical research funding body which allocates over £840 million annually for medical research purposes, over £10 million had been awarded to mesothelioma related research. A link to the government answer can be found here.

I say the response is curious, because in a response to a Parliamentary question posed by Lord Alton in February on successful mesothelioma research funding applications made to the Medical Research Council in the last 10 years, showed only four successful applications were made for a total of around £1.75 million. A massive difference of some £8.25 million. A link to Lord Alton’s question can be found here.

But sadly even the response to Lord Alton’s question failed to give the true picture of actual dedicated mesothelioma research funds awarded by the Medical Research Council. Three of the four successful applications were for research fellowships, and two of these fellowships were jointly funded by the Mick Knighton Trust who provided £150,000. The fourth of the successful research awards was a grant of close to £1 million in 2013/14, and I am very grateful to Professor Paul Elliott who informed me that this award was not specific to mesothelioma research, but rather was made to help fund the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health which provides core support for research and training in environment and health related matters.

So rather than the £10 million of research funding, dedicated mesothelioma research funding from the MRC over the last 10 years stands at about £600,000. It might be suggested that the failure to provide accurate figures on mesothelioma research funding rather epitomises the Cinderella status of mesothelioma in general. Let us hope that a new Parliament brings about a sea change in regards to both its status and levels of research funding.


Asbestos research e-petition hits 2500

The e-petition calling on the government to fund research into asbestos related diseases has reached 2500 signatures. There is still plenty of time for the petition so please do add your signature.

Money is beginning to find its way into mesothelioma research projects in the UK but as Lord Alton recently pointed out at the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group (MAVSG) Annual Conference in Liverpool, there is no guarantee that funding will not disappear as quickly as it arrives. Mesothelioma research projects are in open competition for funding with all other medical research projects, so with the pot of money fixed, many worthy projects miss out. Lord Alton is planning to again seek to raise an amendment to the Mesothelioma Act that would introduce a levy on the Mesothelioma Act Scheme to ensure sustainable long term research funds are available for mesothelioma research. The Labour Party have also stated that they would seek to introduce a statutory basis for research funding if they are elected to government in May. Both Lord Alton’s and the Labour Party proposal’s would involve the insurance industry funding part if not all of the research. James Dalton, the head of the ABI, who whilst also presenting at the MASVG Conference, made some extremely caustic remarks about the role of what he saw as claimant lawyers feathering their own nests leading to hugely increased civil litigation costs, and he made clear that for him the bottom line will be what would be the cost to insurers of any levy. Anything considered unacceptable to them is likely to be met with a legal challenge. Speaking to me at Liverpool, Dalton actually claimed that the savings to government from the Mesothelioma Act scheme have now risen from just over £50 million to £70 million. Whether this new number is truly accurate is open to question, but it is clear that the ABI will play hardball on the research issue.

Asbestos research funding – Taking stock

It is now two weeks since Action Mesothelioma Day so it is useful to take stock of where we are as regards asbestos research funding.

None of the three main political party leaders made any mention of Action Mesothelioma Day on the day, suggesting the lack of political importance they and their advisors place on mesothelioma and asbestos matters in general. With the run-up to the election already underway, if they considered there to be any political mileage for themselves in mesothelioma they would no doubt have made some reference to it and Action Mesothelioma Day. Several Labour Party politicians did attend Action Mesothelioma Day events and the All Party Parliamentary Sub-Group on asbestos seminar this week in London. It was reported from the Action Mesothelioma Day event in Manchester that shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, pledged that a future Labour Government would if necessary compel insurance companies via legislation to provide funding for research into asbestos diseases. It also appears that a Labour Government would match any funding made by insurers.

It is probably most unlikely that the Conservatives will put forward any fresh proposals as regards research, seemingly contenting themselves that they have already done enough as regards helping mesothelioma victims with the passing of the Mesothelioma Act, and bringing forward their own research proposals. However, as has become clear the Coalition government resorted to a shameful sleight of hand as regards mesothelioma victims, giving with one hand and taking away with the other, following their sordid little deal with the insurance industry to ensure that the LASPO provisions apply to mesothelioma claimants. It will be interesting to see the Report of the House of Commons Justice Committee on Mesothelioma claims to be published on the 1st August, and what it says as regards bringing mesothelioma claims within LASPO and the deal struck with insurers.

The Liberal Democrats appear in an unsurprising mess generally, and face election wipe out. With many of the policies they have supported in Coalition it will be extremely difficult for the electorate to take any promises that run counter to this seriously. So even if they were to promise research funding from insurers or public funds, could it be believed?

The British Lung Foundation have been in talks with the insurance industry in the hope of persuading them to fund asbestos research. Lord Alton, speaking at the Manchester Action Mesothelioma Day event, gave the disappointing, but perhaps not entirely unsurprising news that talks between the two parties have failed to produce anything tangible. Whilst the central argument of the British Lung Foundation to insurers is powerful, in that if insurers fund research, in the long run this could be hugely cost beneficial to them in having to pay less compensation, it faces the difficulty of the insurance industry being made up of different companies who might have differing perspectives, and whose owners might question paying out sums where a benefit might not be seen for a number of years.

The Labour Party might find that any legislation compelling insurers to fund research could face a legal challenge, which could potentially dramatically slow any progress in getting money into research. For mesothelioma victims it would be a positive move for a future Labour Government to unpick the LASPO/Mesothelioma Act deal the Coalition Government had with the insurance industry. Whilst we wait to see the Justice Committee Report, the government in defending the decision to include mesothelioma claims under the LASPO provisions sought to argue that there was no justification for mesothelioma claims to be effectively favoured over other types of civil law claims and therefore remain outside of the LASPO provisions. The government said that whilst mesothelioma was a horrid disease, there were other horrid diseases and it could not be justified to give preferential treatment as regards legal actions to mesothelioma claimants. Whilst it is true that there are other horrid diseases, it may be asked which diseases are there that have been negligently caused on the scale of mesothelioma? I may be wrong but it would seem to me both the nature and sheer scale of the disease do make it unique and therefore meriting a different claims regime to the LASPO system.

No political party has thus far mentioned the £52 million saving for the government which the Mesothelioma Act is calculated to achieve over a 10 year period. It is this saving that I argue should be immediately utilised for research purposes. The online petition I set up calling on the government to fund research has now passed 1600 signatures, but of course this number is far short of what is needed in order to have any impact on any political party’s stance on the research issue. I wrote to the Department of Works & Pension to ask what would happen to the £52 million saving and whether it could be used for research. I received a somewhat blocking reply stating that research was a matter for the Health Department, not the Department of Work and Pensions. Just another example, convenient or otherwise for the government, of the difficulties faced when trying to get movement on such an issue.

Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill

Lord Alton’s Private Members Bill was published today. The Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend the Mesothelioma Bill, which of course the Government prevented from having a research funding provision inserted into it. Lord Alton’s Bill provides for up to 1% of the levy the insurance industry will be paying under the provisions of the Mesothelioma Bill, to be channelled into research into mesothelioma. To help Lord Alton’s Bill the public must show the Government its support for research funds to be made available. One way in which this can be done would be to sign my petition requiring the Government itself to provide funding.