Medway has Britain’s second highest rate of asbestos linked deaths, and the Government stands accused of dragging its feet in offering help victims while they are still alive.
A company of compensation specialists used a freedom of information request to the UK’s office of statistics, and the results make shocking reading.
It found only Barrow has a higher death rate for its population, with 8.4 dying per 100,000.
With a national average of 2.5 deaths, Medway is almost three times that at 6.5 deaths.
Heavy industry from the past including power stations, an oil refinery and of course the Royal Navy Dockyard, all helped contribute to today’s soaring number of cases of mesothelioma – a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Gravesham’s death rate of 4.0 is 23rd in the list, with Maidstone 32nd, and Tonbridge and Malling 33rd, both with a rate of 3.7.
Sevenoaks is 36th with 3.7; Thanet 42nd with 3.7; Shepway is 68th with 3.2; Dartford 92nd with 3.0; Swale 114th on 2.8; Canterbury 139th on 2.6; Tunbridge 199th at 2.2; Ashford 240th at 2.0; and Dover 278th with 1.7.
The figures were obtained by not-for-profit campaign group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.
Its president David Bott said: “More people die of mesothelioma in Medway per head of the population than in most other parts of the country.
“This is bad enough, but the number of men dying from this disease is expected to peak during the next five years and what many people don’t realise is that hundreds of sufferers across the UK cannot get the compensation they need to help them through the last days of their life.
“What is needed is for the Government to bring forward proposals for a fund of last resort which would act as a safety net for injured workers who are otherwise unable to pursue the justice they deserve.”
At the moment, claims are hard to prove and win because the initial cause of the illness could have happened decades ago. A company may have gone out of business leaving no way of tracking down insurers, or documents just don’t exist any more.
The lethal illness is generally caused by inhaling asbestos fibres which lodge in the lungs, but take years to start affecting health.
Mr Bott said: “The Government proposed to set up a fund of last resort shortly before the general election, but 18 months has now passed and nothing has been heard about it since.
“In the meantime, sick and dying workers who are prevented from bringing valid cases are left effectively subsidising insurance companies.
“This unacceptable situation simply cannot go on. Something must be done before more dying victims of mesothelioma go uncompensated.
“A similar fund exists for victims injured by uninsured drivers. The Government must do the right thing and introduce one for injured workers.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The DWP is working with stakeholders to resolve these issues and will announce more details and respond to the consultation ‘Accessing Compensation’ as soon as possible.”
Macmillan Cancer Relief has provided funding for specialist nurses to support patients and their carers.
And Dr Alastair Steward, consultant chest physician at Medway Maritime Hospital, said: “Medway is a hot-spot for this disease and is significantly above the national average.”
Those diagnosed with mesothelioma across Kent could double in 10 years, he said.
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