Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

Mesothelioma changes may be for insurers’ benefit, not victims; more research needed

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Palliative care social workers often have to help people with mesothelioma, the lung disease which usually leads to an unpleasant death, caused by exposure, sometimes unwitting and often decades before the occurrence of the disease, to asbestos. This is an industrial disease and employers must pay compensation, but it is hard to prove where people were exposed to asbestos, and many employers have disappeared in the interim. Provision is often made by insurers, and the compensation payments have been valued by people affected, and their families after their deaths. The insurance industry has been trying to limit its liabilities (which are extensive and ongoing) and the government has been negotiating with them over this. This brief comment from the Kennedy’s Liability Briefs (Kennedy’s are a law firm that specialise in various forms of legal liability) indicates a recent move, and gives you a clue to what’s involved:

The Mesothelioma Act came into force on 1 September 2014, which creates a payment scheme, funded by the insurance industry, in order to help those victims who currently have no redress to compensation. Meanwhile, the Justice Committee has criticised the Government for lack of transparency about the ‘agreement’ drawn up between the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Government in 2012 in which the ABI agreed to pay for the payment scheme. A response by the Government to the call for a fresh review is expected by the end of September.

Link to the Kennedy’s Liability Brief

You might find it useful to look at the legislation:

Link to the Legislation

and look at the Parliamentary debates.

Link to the Parliamentary debates

This was routine government business, so it started out in the House of Lords. You can see the explanation of the Act given by Lord Freud in the House of Lords at the second reading, and this gives you a good idea of what’s involved:

Link to the second reading House of Lords debate

However, the Brief suggests that not all is hunky-dory. The Justice Parliamentary Select Committee published a series of reports about whether people claiming compensation could reclaim legal costs; the government, in its aim to cut legal aid costs has been arguing not, but virtually everyone else argues for it. The government is accused of not being totally transparent in its dealings with the insurance industry, giving rise to the suspicion that it has been keener to help the insurers than the victims of the disease (while also keeping its costs down). the report says, at Para 29:

We are concerned that the Government has not been transparent or open, either with us or with other interested parties, about the fact that its overall policy in relation to mesothelioma has been shaped in accordance with an “agreement”, however informal and elastic, which it had reached with employers’ liability insurers. It is hard to see how a balanced and informed public debate can take place when a prior agreement has been reached between two of the principal parties to that debate, and that agreement is not known to others participating in the debate, including victims.

Link to the Justice Committee 3rd Report on the scheme

Bearing this in mind, it might be good to keep our eyes open for how the Act in practice will work on behalf of victims and families, and encourage some of the interested MPsto tkae up things which do not seem to be going well.

There are lots of other issues, which emerged as the Act progressed through Parliament. For example, MPs were concerned that not enough research was being done to ensure that British NHS patients got the best treatments available elsewhere. You can see this debate in the House of Commons Report stage:

Link to the Third Reading debate.

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Written by Malcolm Payne

2 September 2014 at 10:54 am

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