Byline: By Steven Oliver Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), April 29, 2004
Government cash is desperately needed to defuse the ticking health time-bomb caused by killer asbestos diseases.
This is the message today from a leading North East law firm which has handled claims from hundreds of people suffering from terminal cancer.
Thompsons Solicitors today warned of a soaring number of asbestos-related deaths which it believes is reaching epidemic levels.
Already the number of deaths has hit 3,500 a year, and the dire prediction is that 10,000 people will die of conditions, including mesothelioma, every year by 2020.
And they believe the scale of the problem will swamp the resources currently available under the National Health Service.
The dreadful consequences of contracting the lethal cancer has been reported by the Chronicle through the tragic story of Mick Knighton from Wallsend.
He died in March 2001, aged 60, from the lung cancer, many years after he was exposed to asbestos as a young man in the Royal Navy.
The brave campaign led by his grieving widow Chris Knighton to raise awareness of the risks and cash to fight the disease has touched the hearts of Chronicle readers.
She said: "Mick was fit and well and so full of life before this terrible illness struck him down.
"No-one should ever have to go through what he suffered, with no treatment, no cure and no hope. I don't think enough can be done to ensure others are helped properly."
She is campaigning, with the support of Thompsons, to raise pounds 100,000 for the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund to sponsor vital research into the condition.
Now Thompsons is hoping the story will help hammer home the message that many more thousands of North East people could face a similar fate to that of Mr Knighton.
Ian McFall, head of Thompsons' national asbestos team, said there is a desperate need for urgent action to be taken now.
He explained: "It seems this Government thinks the NHS can cope with what is becoming an epidemic without extra resources.
"There is an urgent need for specialist units and properly funded dedicated research.
"People who are suffering from mesothelioma deserve more resources being invested in quicker diagnosis and better treatment of this presently incurable disease."
Death toll rising
Asbestos is the term used for several kinds of natural minerals which crystallise into long thin fibres.
This material has a high resistance to heat, chemicals and electricity and was widely used in building work, particularly as an insulation material, from the 1950s to the mid-80s.
Asbestos-related diseases take many years to develop after exposure.
Fibres from the material collect in the lungs, which can lead to cancers of the lung and the lung lining, or to scarring of the lung tissue.
Asbestos exposure in Britain peaked in the mid to late-1960s, but the annual
number of deaths from the cancer mesothelioma is still increasing.