VICTIMS of the asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma, with their families last Tuesday (17th October) lobbied their MPs in Westminster in a mass lobby supported by the general unions Amicus and GMB.
They were protesting at a Government decision to withdraw approval for the use of an important drug in treating the condition, which could extend the lives of sufferers.
The Government body, the NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), earlier this year withdrew approval for a drug called Alimta, which is used as a chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma. This mean’s that Alimta is no longer prescribed for sufferers of this horrific, painful disease, taking hope away from many patients.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer caused almost exclusively from exposure to asbestos. Many workers in Britain have been exposed to asbestos at one time or another, and many who have worked in industries such as construction and shipbuilding, now live in real fear of contracting an asbestos related disease.
Even before the lobby, 50 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion sponsored by North East MP Fraser Kemp which calls for extended access to the life-extending drug.
Over 40 MPs attended the lobby, with many of them sharing experiences of constituents who have contracted this illness. Equally lobbyists gave their account to MPs of how the disease had affected their lives, families and loved ones.
The event comes just days before Alimta manufacturer Eli Lilley prepares for an appeal hearing against NICE’s decision on the drug.
Just before the lobby, Ian McFall, head of asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors who have led the fight to free access to Alimta, said: "This is a chance for every MP in the UK to put their weight behind this campaign. During this lobby they will be able to see first hand how mesothelioma has changed the lives of many hard working people and they will learn how Alimta can help some of these people to have a better quality of life."
John McClean, GMB National Health and Safety Officer, comments: "GMB fully supports this lobby. Mesothelioma sufferers have paid the price with their
health and their lives because of the negligence of employers. If the only
licensed treatment for mesothelioma is withdrawn, innocent victims will be sent away without hope."
Amicus’s Tom Hardacre, lead officer for construction who attended the lobby, said: "Amicus is fully behind this lobby, it is very important suffers are given every opportunity to enhance their quality of life. This drug at present offers the only hope for mesothelioma victims."
A young woman at the lobby told her harrowing story, of how Alimta had been withdrawn from her mother at the last minute, after being promised treatment by a her Primary Care Trust. Even before the withdrawal, chaos and frustration rained down on mesothelioma sufferers, with some patients receiving treatment and others just a few miles away being deprived.
Tom went on to say: "here we go again, the least able to defend and protect themselves become the innocent victims".
The final decision will be given after an appeal hearing later this year; MPs have promised to bring this injustice to the attention of Government Ministers, in time for action to be taken before the appeal deadline elapses. Amicus wholeheartedly supports this cause, and will encourage MPs to keep the pressure up.