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    Surge in cases of asbestos disease: deadly health timebomb emerges

    Predictions of an ‘asbestos timebomb’ appear to be coming true as the number of patients diagnosed with the lung disease mesothelioma shot up seven-fold in only a year at one West hospital.

    And computer models are predicting that within only five years, there will be as many as 2,800 people being diagnosed with the fatal condition every year in Britain – with a concentration in the West.

    Mesothelioma has long been dubbed ‘the Swindon Disease’ because of the prevalence of what had been a relatively rare condition in the town, thanks to its industrial past and railway works heritage.

    But even in Swindon, the numbers of new cases being diagnosed at the town’s Great Western Hospital were only ever around half a dozen each year. But in the past 12 months, some 34 new cases have been diagnosed, and doctors there are preparing for many more in the coming years.

    One of those new cases was the town’s mayor, Rex Barnett, who was diagnosed in the last few weeks of his 12-month term of office in April. He said he was angry that bosses at the railway works hadn’t acted sooner to counter the threat of exposure decades ago.

    Asbestosis, the generic condition which can lead to mesothelioma, often does not reveal itself for at least 30 or 40 years after exposure to asbestos. That means with exposure rates growing throughout the 1960s and 70s, the numbers of people being diagnosed is expected to soar in the coming years.

    In Swindon, health chiefs have revealed that it’s already beginning to happen, with six or seven times as many cases as the recent average in the past year.

    Mr Barnett, who is being treated at the GWH for mesothelioma, said of his time as an employee of the railworks: “I am angry it was allowed to develop like it did. The only thing I can say in their defence is that only one or two had had it then and they thought the percentages are low enough not to bother.”

    The Government is currently courting controversy by including cases of mesothelioma and asbestosis in a new law which would deny sufferers and their families legal aid to get compensation from employers.

    “Victims have already taken the risk, they’ve already paid a price with their health and they should not have to face forking out any more,” said former textiles union leader Terry Briton, who is part of an asbestos victims support group.

    “Where is the justice in making dying asbestos victims bear the burden of legal costs on top of the pain and suffering, while rich and powerful insurance companies enjoy relief from costs which the losing party have, and should, rightly bear?” he added

    “Western Daily Press” 6.10.2011