The first mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist is to be employed in the north east of England, a continuing hotspot for asbestosis disease where many still suffer from Britain’s industrial legacy of asbestos use.

The Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, first set up in memory of a Tyneside victim who died of mesothelioma in 2001, has worked with companion charity, Mesothelioma UK, to previously fund specialist nurses in posts at Leicester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, and in Wales.

Founded in 2004, Mesothelioma UK, has continued to develop asbestos awareness, care and support at both local and national level for a continuing high number of men and women who are unexpectedly diagnosed with the fatal, incurable cancer in later life.

Vital access to information and support

It is well-documented that it can take between 15 to 50 years from an initial period of exposure to the eventual appearance of mesothelioma or other asbestosis symptoms. A confirmed diagnosis tends to occur when the disease is at an advanced stage and palliative care is seen as crucial to helping victims with improving quality of life in the remaining time.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos and at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year. A key aim of introducing specialist mesothelioma nurses into known high asbestos-related areas is to provide victims, their spouse and family with vital access to information and support when it is needed most.

Highest fatality in the North East

Until the most toxic brown and blue asbestos fibres were banned from use as insulating materials in the mid 1980s, the two regions with the highest mesothelioma fatality rate was the North East and Scotland where shipbuilding industries were concentrated, including  the areas of Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland South Tyneside, Redcar and Cleveland and Middlesbrough. It may not be well-known that the use of asbestos was only banned on ship construction since 2002, under the terms of the Safety of Life at Sea convention.

By 2005, it was estimated that 100,000 workers had fallen victim to the deadly disease. As recently as 2011, the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits reported there was 725 newly assessed cases of asbestosis, and just 12 months later, the HSE estimated around 2,000 asbestos related lung cancer deaths. The annual mortality rate is predicted to increase to a peak of more than 2,100 by 2016 or beyond (HSE).

Vital answers to questions

The time that may be left to a patient diagnosed with mesothelioma can vary between just one or two months to six months, 12 months or in rare cases, two years or more. The importance of providing immediate answers to questions by a patient and their family with information, care, help and support for a range of special needs is increasingly being recognised.

Although the destination of the present hospital posting is to be finalised shortly, Mesothelioma UK say that four further positions are currently under discussion. In addition, invitations are being sent to lung cancer multi-disciplinary units across the North East to canvass interest in developing a Mesothelioma Clinical Nurse Specialist post within their team.