20th anniversary of the UK asbestos ban

2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the UK’s ban on asbestos. However, since its ban in 1999, more than 85,000 Britons have died from mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. The reason for the continued number of cases, despite the ban, is because it can be decades after exposure before symptoms appear.

In 2016, there were 2,595 deaths from mesothelioma, a 10% increase since 2010 (2,360) despite predictions that the national epidemic would peak at 2,040 per year by 2016.

Because the asbestos ban did not require the removal of asbestos-containing products, most of the asbestos used in the country during the 20th century remains in place in buildings built before the ban. This includes many hospital buildings and schools which could account for emerging data showing patients from occupations which are not traditionally associated with asbestos e.g. healthcare workers and younger patients who could have been exposed at school.

In 1999 asbestos-related diseases were still a little-known topic and mesothelioma was virtually unheard of among the general public. Thankfully, over the last 20 years, the campaigning efforts of mesothelioma charities and asbestos victims’ groups, have highlighted the dangers of exposure to asbestos and raised awareness of it nationally.

Initiatives such as Mesothelioma UK’s Action Mesothelioma Day, the annual Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar, meetings of asbestos victims’ groups and the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group, asbestos campaigners and victims’ groups are crucial in raising awareness among the general public, employers, and policy makers.

There is still a long way to go. However, progress is being made. The UK Mesothelioma Alliance, formed in 2017, brings together mesothelioma stakeholders as one voice to raise awareness.

A spokesperson for UKMA said: “The work of asbestos charities such as Mesothelioma UK, the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund, the John Pickering Trust, the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, and the many support groups such as HASAG, not only raise vital funding for research but also provide signposts for patients and their families to access the medical, practical, legal and moral support they deserve.

“UKMA members are working to ensure equitable access to treatment and care throughout the UK and raise awareness of mesothelioma to increase early diagnosis and reduce exposure to asbestos.”

Much progress is being made in terms of scientific research, clinical trials, compensation for exposure, support networks and access to clinical experts.
• Mesothelioma UK now has 25 clinical nurse specialists posted around the country
• There are around 20 clinical trials currently active in the UK (as at 6 November 2019)
• Government compensation packages for those who can’t trace a liable employer of around £123,000 are available
• There are 30 mesothelioma support groups for patients and carers around the country and 13 groups for asbestos-related disease support