Payments hope for lung disease sufferers

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for justice for sufferers of an asbestos-related condition are on the verge of making a major breakthrough.

The YEP understands that ministers will announce within weeks a deal which will see insurance companies agreeing to pay around 5,000 in compensation to individual pleural plaque sufferers.

Westminster sources say Prime Minister Gordon Brown has personally taken an interest in efforts to broker a deal.

The agreement will be a huge relief to the scores of sufferers across Leeds and West Yorkshire.

Last October, Law Lords upheld an Appeal Court ruling that pleural plaque sufferers were no longer entitled to compensation.

The decision was a devastating blow to former workers who had been diagnosed with the condition, a scarring of the lungs which can be a forerunner of deadly asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Insurance companies, which stood to gain 1.4 billion from the decision, had argued that pleural plaques should not be a reason for compensation because they were symptomless and had no effect on health or the ability to work.

However, the YEP understands that the Government has made it clear behind the scenes that it is prepared to change the law and overturn the Law Lords if the insurance companies refuse to back down.

Sources claim insurers are also increasingly worried that they face years of costly legal cases brought by trade unions on behalf of pleural plaque sufferers.

Ministers are now confident that major insurance companies will voluntarily agree to make a fixed payment to anyone diagnosed with pleural plaques. This is likely to be around 5,000, the average payout before the Appeal Court judgment.

Sources have even claimed that the deal was used to encourage Labour backbenchers not to rebel in Wednesday's vote on the EU Treaty.

One Westminster source said Mr Brown's involvement had been crucial: "This was something he had personally seen with some of his own constituents."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "We are currently giving serious consideration to all the representations that have been made to us on this issue, and are actively exploring how people who have pleural plaques as a result of exposure to asbestos might be supported."

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