Action Mesothelioma Day 2022

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th June 2022.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I ask members of the public who are leaving the public gallery to do so quickly and quietly, please, because we are about to continue with our business. Thank you very much indeed.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-05097—[

Interruption

.] I ask for quiet in the public gallery.

The debate on motion S6M-05097, in the name of Marie McNair, is on action mesothelioma day 2022. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 1 July 2022 is Action Mesothelioma Day; notes that the action day aims to raise awareness of the disease, which it understands is caused by breathing in asbestos fibres; further understands that there are approximately 2,700 new mesothelioma cases in the UK every year, including over 200 in Scotland, which is the highest number in Europe, and that there are at least a further 2,000 cases of lung cancer that are likely to be caused by asbestos exposure; notes that the action day brings to light the extraordinary work of support groups across Scotland that continue to support people impacted by mesothelioma and their families, as well as doing work to remember those who have died as a result of mesothelioma; acknowledges the particular contribution of Clydebank Asbestos Group, as it approaches its 30th anniversary, which has provided information and support to people with asbestos-related conditions for decades; wishes Action Mesothelioma Day every success, and notes the view that there is a continued need for research into the management and treatment of this condition.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party

I am pleased to have secured the debate, and I thank colleagues for their support in signing the motion and for participating in the debate.

Action mesothelioma day, on 1 July, seeks to raise awareness of mesothelioma. I congratulate ActionMeso and all the support groups up and down the country on their determined efforts to raise awareness of the disease. I am delighted that members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group have travelled from Clydebank to support the debate. I welcome to our Parliament Kate Ferrier, Adele Kane and Rachel Gallagher, who join us from the gallery.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, and it begins to grow in the lining of certain organs. Most commonly, it affects the lining of the lungs, but it can also affect the lining of the abdomen or the lining of the heart. It can be difficult to diagnose, because it has a long latency period. Worldwide Cancer Research states:

“it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years after a person’s first exposure to asbestos to diagnosis with mesothelioma.”

The disease is incurable, but some people survive for many years after diagnosis. Sadly, however, many cases are diagnosed at a late stage, the cancer having already spread from the lining of the lungs to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, at that stage, palliative care is often the only option.

From my time as part of the nursing team at St Margaret of Scotland hospice, I saw at first hand how those types of cancer took away so many too soon. I had many heart-breaking conversations about the impact of mesothelioma with patients who were at the end stage of the disease, including women who said that they had been exposed to asbestos simply because of their cleanliness, through cleaning their husbands’ overalls.

I heard from patients who had worked in the Turners Asbestos Cement company in Clydebank. They said that they were given little in the way of protective clothing or masks—some used to clear vents with their bare hands. The irony of a national health service hospital now being located on the site of the former asbestos factory is certainly not lost on my Clydebank constituents.

I also remember hospice patients meeting their lawyers about compensation claims; sadly, some died before the insurance company settled. Those companies sought out delay and denied what little justice was available to those who had been criminally exposed to asbestos. Fortunately, things on the compensation front have moved on, but there is much more to be done, and equality must be given to posthumous claims.

Mesothelioma has inflicted much pain and suffering in Clydebank—the town in which I was brought up, live, work and now have the honour to represent. Twenty-six years ago, Clydebank was described as the mesothelioma capital of Europe, due to its having the highest death rates. Recent Health and Safety Executive statistics show that, in the period from 1981 to 2019, the local government area covering Clydebank had the second highest male mesothelioma death rate in the United Kingdom. The statistics also show that we have the highest female mesothelioma death rate in Scotland and the fourth highest in the United Kingdom. That is an unwanted legacy of our industrial heritage.

As well as Turners, which operated in our town between 1938 and 1970, many in Clydebank were employed in the Singer sewing factory or by John Brown & Company in engineering and shipbuilding. Asbestos was heavily used in those industries and is a major contributory factor to the high levels of mesothelioma.

In response, in the latter half of the 1990s, West Dunbartonshire Council and the health board set up a groundbreaking partnership to increase awareness of the scale of asbestos-related illness and to improve services for those who were exposed to asbestos. At the heart of that partnership is the Clydebank Asbestos Group, which has existed for 30 years and is always there for those who need it. The group is chaired by Theresa Jones and supported by vice-chair Christine Sawyer and secretary Kate Ferrier. It also has hard-working and committed staff in charity co-ordinator Rachel Gallagher and admin officer Adele Kane.

The charity was founded in October 1992 by David Colraine and his wife, Jean. It is fitting that, in the year of the group’s 30th anniversary, its former chairperson Bob Dickie celebrated his 90th birthday. Bob is still a mentor to the group and is greatly respected for everything that he achieved for it and the cause of asbestos victims across the UK. Bob is also known for his role as a shop steward in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in and for being part of the delegation to Downing Street to save the yard.

Although the majority of the group’s clients are from heavy industry backgrounds, it now sees clients, including more female clients, who worked not in heavy industry but in other sectors such as education and health and in clerical occupations. Some younger clients have also accessed the service in recent years—shockingly, people as young as 30 are being diagnosed with mesothelioma. That is a worrying development, especially considering how long mesothelioma can go undetected.

Those two issues emphasise my position that everything possible must be done to deal with asbestos in built environments, including taking the most effective approaches to health and safety and providing adequate funding to remove asbestos from public and private buildings.

It is also important that there be good support for health and social care. There have been significant improvements in the package of help and treatments that is available, and we must ensure that it emerges well from Covid and is available to younger age groups, as highlighted by the Clydebank Asbestos Group’s case load.

Finally, the group has developed a good relationship with the industrial injuries disablement benefit office in Barrow. Mesothelioma is a prescribed disease in the industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme, which provides no-fault state compensation to employed earners for occupational diseases. Claims for mesothelioma are prioritised in the scheme and are automatically assessed at 100 per cent disablement, given the severity and prognosis of the disease. As the benefit transfers over to Social Security Scotland, I want it to work with the group to ensure that the right support is given and quick decisions are made.

I thank all those who are taking part in action mesothelioma day to raise awareness. Members will understand why I secured the debate: mesothelioma is an important issue for my constituents, and I welcome the opportunity to increase awareness and highlight the issues around the disease. I congratulate Clydebank Asbestos Group on its 30th anniversary.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Marie McNair’s motion is important, because it reminds the population that mesothelioma is not a disease of the past and that it still exists. Inverclyde, like Clydebank and other parts of the Clyde, has had a long tradition of shipbuilding and heavy engineering. There are many legacies from those industries and, sadly, mesothelioma is one of them.

Health and safety at work in the past was scant compared with today, and year after year people succumb to asbestos-related conditions—200 per year in Scotland, as the motion indicates. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it, and improving health and safety at work is one lesson that has been learned. The Scottish Parliament has legislated on asbestos conditions in the past and will do so in the future.

On 23 February, the Scottish Law Commission launched its discussion paper on damages for personal injury, which closes today. The discussion paper covers four topics: the law relating to damages for services; deductions from damages; provisional damages and asbestos-related disease; and management of children’s awards of damages. In particular, it explores whether reform is needed to reflect socio-legal changes and developments.

Questions 17 to 22 of the paper cover asbestos-related matters, while questions 20 and 21 refer to mesothelioma and time barring, which has been a long-standing issue. In my response to questions 20 and 21, I state:

“Ensures that a person diagnosed with pleural plaques, but doesn’t go on to develop a more life-threatening illness, can still claim for damages. Clearly, many people diagnosed with pleural plaques often don’t realise their right to claim damages, so keeping the time bar could still prohibit injured persons from making claims.”

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I have raised the issue of pleural plaques in the Parliament before. A person with pleural plaques can claim for damages, but my understanding is that, if the person makes a claim for pleural plaques and they go on to develop mesothelioma, they cannot make a second claim, so it is a bit of a gamble. A person can go for a low-level settlement for their injury, but they head off at the pass that additional payment should they develop mesothelioma. I know that it is a complex issue, but should the Scottish Parliament tackle it?

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

Yes, we should; I agree with Mr Doris. In the past—under the SNP Government and the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration—we have had various debates and discussions in the Parliament about legislation relating to pleural plaques. That is one reason why the Scottish Law Commission paper is hugely important.

Mesothelioma will be with us for decades to come, and it is important that people who are diagnosed with it have the right healthcare, the right financial support, the right emotional support and the right to not be hampered by the time bar.

I welcome the Scottish Law Commission discussion paper and look forward to its recommendations. However, I also acknowledge that more people will be diagnosed with mesothelioma and lose their lives before legislation is introduced in the Parliament.

I have been contacted by constituents in the past, and recently by another, raising issues regarding the time bar and mesothelioma. I support that aspect of the law being amended so that Scots—as the motion indicates, more than 200 new cases per year are in Scotland—can have the chance of a more comfortable life after diagnosis.

Action mesothelioma day, on 1 July, is an important day. Society must remember those who helped to build the economy and society that we have today. Mesothelioma will affect many more families in the years to come. We have a job to highlight the disease to the wider public in addition to helping people with mesothelioma.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives in the debate. I thank

Marie McNair for introducing this important topic for members’ business. I welcome the members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group and thank them for all the work that they have been doing over the past 30 years.

As the member rightly acknowledges in her motion, action mesothelioma day is a national campaign to raise awareness of the disease and the dangers of asbestos. Despite decades having passed since the inhalation of asbestos was found to cause fatal disease, there is still much work to be done to eradicate asbestos from public buildings. There remains a critical lack of awareness of the risk posed by hazardous substances, such as asbestos, and just how devastating an impact they can have on lives.

The UK Mesothelioma Alliance has gone above and beyond this year to get local areas up and down the UK involved through its “go blue for meso” campaign. The campaign has seen local homes and landmarks lit up in blue to raise awareness of asbestos-induced cancer.

It is not a disease of the past, and it did not disappear when asbestos production ceased—in fact, it still affects people of all ages, from as young as 14 to as old as 90. What was welcome was the Health and Safety Executive’s prediction that annual deaths from the illness would start to decline for men and women from 2020, and there is also the new research and development that are being carried out into the disease. As of yet, however, there remains no known cure.

Sadly, because of their industrial past, the West Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde areas in my West Scotland region are host to some of the highest numbers of individuals suffering with and dying from the disease. However, as the member has stated in her motion, the Clydebank Asbestos Group has played a vital role for affected individuals and families by offering invaluable support and advice as well as helping individuals navigate the legal frameworks and forms to ensure that they get what they are entitled to. Compensation will, of course, never equate to a loved one’s health and wellbeing—or, indeed, their life—but, without it, the added stress can be a burden on already suffering families. I therefore thank the organisations and individuals who work tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and who support those affected by it.

A huge percentage of public buildings and homes still contain asbestos. The fact that the exact figure is unknown presents a key challenge as we move forward, but the mass retrofitting of homes and public buildings with new insulation and low-carbon heating systems gives us an opportunity to address the issue. Nevertheless, the risk of exposure to asbestos means that that sort of work must be done with caution. The Health and Safety Executive has made a commitment that future research will address the number of business premises containing asbestos, and the five-year review, which will be published this summer, is expected to include estimates for the number of premises that do so.

The hard work and dedication of organisations, charities and support groups committed to supporting those affected by mesothelioma and asbestos remain indispensable and critical. Indeed, I have heard first hand from the Clydebank Asbestos Group about the incredible work that it does. It is important that we as politicians raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and asbestos-related illnesses and encourage those who come into contact with asbestos to contact the relevant local authorities in order to ensure its safe removal.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

As we have heard from other members, mesothelioma is a cruel and painful condition that often takes hold years before it is diagnosed. According to Health and Safety Executive data, the disease was responsible for 78 deaths in my local area of East Ayrshire between 1981 and 2019, with 19 of those deaths occurring between 2015 and 2019. That suggests a disease that is taking hold in a particular generation in a much more decisive way as time goes on. Those are 19 families that have had someone stolen from them only very recently, and it is clear that this is a condition that causes lasting pain to families and communities.

We can see, therefore, that mesothelioma is a growing problem that, as other members have said, we must face up to. In particular, we need to raise awareness to ensure that anyone exposed to asbestos can be diagnosed as quickly as possible. Alongside that, there must be a greater focus on the hidden dangers of lung cancer, which takes the lives of so many in ex-mining communities in areas such as mine, and particularly of those men who worked in heavy industries year on year across the South Scotland region. Far too often, such conditions are work related and they must be recorded as such.

Beyond the physical effects of those conditions, the pain to society is acute, particularly because the conditions themselves were so easily avoidable and because it is through decisions that were made in the past that so many people are becoming sick. We did not know that, because of the work that those people were undertaking, their lives would be taken early.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

I thank my friend for giving way. I had the opportunity with the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee to visit the Scottish Law Commission to discuss some of its work on the issue. During that visit, one matter that was raised was the fact that, although people who worked in manufacturing and construction industries were heavily affected, people living in the same household could be affected due to contact with clothing. It is a very insidious killer, which we must also take cognisance of.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

Thank you. That point is well made, as is the point that, although the condition is seen in men in heavy industry, women and others are affected because of such issues. We must be aware of that.

We have touched on the fact that so many people who suffered exposure to asbestos during their working life have never received any serious compensation, often due to the fact that employers would jump through hoops to claim that the cause of people’s cancer could not be proven. At a time when workers’ rights are back on the agenda in a big way, it seems appropriate to renew the call for people to be fairly compensated. Deep down, I know that we can never really compensate someone for such horrendous injuries in their workplace. However, I think that we all agree that we must push that forward and ensure that people get what they are absolutely entitled to.

As people have said, despite that knowledge, to this day, asbestos is mined in certain parts of the world and people with significant interests in the UK are profiting from that process. That is ideologically and morally wrong. In Scotland, we must be clear in our opposition to that trade and the Parliament should be vocal in condemning those practices. In Scotland, there are nearly 200 new cases of mesothelioma a year and yet we are still hearing about cases of asbestos in buildings.

In closing, as always, I thank the groups who raise these issues, such as the Clydebank Asbestos Group—it is lovely to see the group here. My dad grew up in Clydebank and I have heard many stories about the mountains of asbestos that were around in his childhood. I also thank the Scottish Mesothelioma Network for keeping the debate alive. We have a collective responsibility to maintain a focus on the issue, so I thank Marie McNair for bringing it to the chamber.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Bill Kidd, to be followed by Richard Leonard, who will be the last speaker in the debate before I call the minister to respond. Mr Kidd, you have up to four minutes to speak.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I congratulate Marie McNair on securing this important debate to recognise action mesothelioma day, which is tomorrow. As others have done, I welcome the members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group who are in the gallery.

The dangers of asbestos were first discovered as early as 1906. Much later, in the 1950s and 1960s, medical reports linked asbestos to lung cancer, mesothelioma and other diseases. The importation and sale or distribution of asbestos-containing materials was finally banned in 1999. However, despite an almost century-long history of tracking the disease and passing laws to stop its use, asbestos and mesothelioma are not issues of the past.

Very sadly, the disease and the harm caused are often missed and not diagnosed for many people until later in life. Many tradesmen who worked with frequent exposure to that harmful carcinogen prior to its ban are still experiencing illness, or only now becoming ill due to its impact. Importantly, as has been said, the families of those affected at work have been affected by that dangerous material.

Moreover, that material still exists in many buildings that were built or refurbished before the turn of the century. That includes public buildings, such as schools and offices, so there is an absolute imperative to not let public awareness of the issue subside over time. The remaining asbestos still needs to be dealt with over a long period, as buildings undergo refurbishment, repair work and demolition. That is confirmed by the Health and Safety Executive, which tells us that 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of exposure and may yet come into contact with asbestos more than 100 times a year without their knowledge. Risks still exist for tradespeople, homeowners, tenants and so many others. We must remain vigilant to the dangers of asbestos and keep raising awareness of the issue with the public to ensure that proper precautions continue to be taken. Risks must be mitigated through proper training and rigorous health and safety standards.

More than 2,700 people across the UK are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, including 200 in Scotland, which is the highest number of annual diagnoses in Europe—as Marie McNair’s motion highlighted. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for up to nine out of 10 mesothelioma cases, and that form of cancer is most common among men. Shockingly, the Health and Safety Executive tells us that asbestos causes more than 5,000 deaths a year and that around 20 tradesmen die each week as a result of past exposure.

Those figures are truly saddening and they tell us of the many who worked through generations and built the economy and infrastructure of the nation. It was during that process that tradesmen used this material—then thought of as a miracle material—for its cheapness and versatility in the post-war economy. However, it became clear that the miracle material was no miracle at all; rather, asbestos is acutely dangerous and such frequent exposure left tradesmen, and often their families, disproportionately affected by the harms and illness caused by the material.

Action mesothelioma day is of particular relevance to Anniesland, which is the constituency that I represent. Anniesland has a proud history of shipbuilding and heavy engineering. However, that unfortunately means that many families in the area have been affected by this issue.

I would like to end by highlighting the brilliant work of Action on Asbestos: Industrial Injury and Disease, formerly known as Clydeside Action on Asbestos. Over the years, that brilliant organisation has provided invaluable information to MSPs and support to people in Scotland—including many people from Anniesland—who have been affected by mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and all other asbestos-related diseases.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I remind members of my register of interests, and I thank Marie McNair for bringing the motion to Parliament. It is fitting that the constituency representative for Clydebank opened the debate. The campaign for action on asbestos has been led by a movement of grass-roots campaigners right across the country, but none have been more prominent than those from her constituency. It is fitting, too, because she follows in the footsteps of her predecessor Des McNulty, who campaigned tirelessly, inside and outside Parliament, on the issue.

Labour’s record on securing justice for asbestos sufferers and their families in this Parliament is good. There was Bill Butler’s Damages (Scotland) Act 2011. Des McNulty’s Asbestos (Improved Compensation) Bill in 2006, which became the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007, was taken through Parliament by people including Hugh Henry, Cathy Jamieson and Johann Lamont. There has been cross-party support, too, when it was demanded, for legislation such as the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009, but there is outstanding work to be done.

It cannot be right that a failure to lodge a claim for pleural plaques within a three-year time limit bars any subsequent claim for a more serious disease, like mesothelioma. It cannot be right that the so-called “single-action rule” is applied to asbestos sufferers and their families. It cannot be right that, as the trade union lawyers Thompsons Solicitors, said

“individuals should not be disproportionately penalised for failure to raise court proceedings for a relatively minor injury when they later go on to develop a serious and potentially life-threatening illness as a result of the same negligent act.”

It cannot be right, and we should resolve today to use this Parliament to change this law and right this wrong.

My own involvement with the issue goes back almost four decades, to my time working for Alex Falconer, a politically principled socialist and a man of great integrity and humanity, who, before he was elected to the European Parliament in 1984, was a Transport and General Workers Union shop steward and a lagger at Rosyth dockyard. For the avoidance of doubt, that meant 20 years of lagging pipes with brown and blue asbestos—or monkey dung, as they called it—in the confined spaces of naval ships and submarines. In the 1980s, he was diagnosed with pleural plaques on his lungs. He won a test case at the High Court, backed by his union, to secure damages and the right to return to claim further damages if he needed to. He did need to and, 10 years ago this August, my old friend, my old comrade, died of lung cancer.

In death as well as in life, Alex Falconer reminds us about the balance of power between big employers, their millionaire insurers and the people who work for them. He is a reminder that there is a class system, that this is a class-based society and that this Parliament needs once again to be on the side of the working class, because the toll of deaths caused by work-related exposure to asbestos is far from over.

All those asbestos boards and sheets that the industry always knew were dangerous are still present in the walls and ceilings of our schools, offices, public buildings and factories. So, let us make it our mission in this Parliament to rediscover our sense of injustice, to reawaken our spirit of audacity, and to act on the words of the rallying cry of our international workers memorial day and “Remember the dead”, but “fight for the living”.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

I take the opportunity to thank Marie McNair for bringing this important debate to the Parliament. As others have done, I will take the opportunity to welcome the representatives of the Clydebank Asbestos Group. I am aware of many of the issues, because—ironically, as an interesting side note to the debate—my very first debate as a councillor at Renfrewshire Council was on the issue. The debate was brought by Clydeside Action on Asbestos and I think that it was part of one of Stuart McMillan’s campaigns, which inevitably ended up at Renfrewshire Council. I am therefore aware of the issue and have been for quite a while. I also note that I have just heard that the Scottish Government buildings will be lit up blue tomorrow to support raising of awareness of the issue.

I welcome the opportunity to close the debate. The Scottish Government recognises the damaging impact of all cancers on individuals and their wider support network and families. That is particularly evident in relation to mesothelioma, for which the available treatments are limited. However, we also recognise the significant progress that has been made over recent years. More people are now being treated more effectively, more quickly and more safely, and more people are receiving care at home. That is a great improvement, thanks to the efforts of people across the national health service in primary care, acute care and oncology, and in social care and the third sector.

With regard to mesothelioma, we have strong clinical leadership through the establishment of the Scottish Mesothelioma Network in 2019. The network strives to improve outcomes for patients by taking a collaborative approach across Scotland and across various professions, which means that all patients in Scotland can access the very best expertise, and the care that they deserve, no matter what health board area they happen to live in. The network recently created the first set of national quality performance indicators, and although we are not achieving all those QPIs just yet, they are a great first step in tracking our progress as we continue to drive further improvement.

I commend the work of the network and acknowledge its recent award for innovation at the recent Scottish health awards. In addition, the work of our third sector partners, such as

Clydebank Asbestos Group, should be acknowledged. Its work to support not only individuals’ physical needs but their emotional and mental wellbeing is immensely important, and we could not do without that work in the health sector. The work of our various partners in the community helps us to support affected individuals, which has been the case especially over the past couple of years.

As we are all aware, the pandemic has had a significant impact on all aspects of our lives, and a significant impact on health services. In December 2020, we published the national cancer plan, which set out a response to the pandemic for cancer services and how we plan to recover and redesign those services to ensure future resilience.

Although the cancer plan did not specifically mention mesothelioma, that should not for a moment be taken as a sign that improving the outcomes for people with mesothelioma has not been considered and has not, ultimately, influenced our strategic plans. Under one of our flagship actions—the establishment of the Scottish cancer research network—the Scottish Mesothelioma Network has been picked up and will be directly funded by the Scottish Government.

In addition, the Scottish Government is acutely aware that early detection of all cancers is crucial. That is why we continue to invest in initiatives such as our detect cancer early programme and the three early cancer diagnostic centres.

Alongside those initiatives, we refreshed the “Scottish Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer” in 2019. Those guidelines support primary care clinicians in ensuring that people with suspicious symptoms are put on the right pathway at the right time, and they include a specific section on mesothelioma. The guidelines should help clinicians to identify patients who are most likely to have cancer and who require urgent assessment by a specialist.

Under our current plan, we are investing in single points of contact, who will help cancer patients along their journey. Those points of contact will be available to discuss questions or anxieties related to patients’ clinical care, and will help them to self-manage aspects of their condition.

When it comes to mesothelioma specifically, we are aware that nine out of 10 diagnoses are directly linked to exposure to asbestos. As we all know, asbestos is a material that was previously commonly used in construction and other industries. Because the curative options that are available for mesothelioma patients are limited, it goes without saying that prevention is the best policy. The use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999. Where asbestos remains, working with it requires a licence and use of strict control measures, including personal protective equipment such as respirators.

As well as work to prevent exposure to asbestos and to provide appropriate medical care for people who have been affected by it, good work has been done to ensure that people have appropriate rights to compensation. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have a strong record of supporting people who have been negligently exposed to asbestos. Significant provision has been made with regard to the law on damages for personal injuries, including through the passing of the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007 and the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009, and through the support that the Government provided for the bill that became the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011.

Although preventative policies are welcome, the reality is that many individuals will continue to present with mesothelioma because of its long latency period and extensive use of asbestos until the late 1990s. In conjunction with that, unfortunately mesothelioma can be difficult to treat. Nearly all the treatment is aimed at controlling the disease for as long as possible and keeping the symptoms under control.

However, doctors and researchers are working to improve the treatment all the time, and I am delighted to say that, in February, the Scottish Medicines Consortium approved the use of a new combination of drugs as a first-line treatment for adults. That treatment is the first new treatment for mesothelioma in 14 years.

The new treatment would not have been possible without clinical trials. The Scottish Government encourages clinicians to ensure that as many patients as possible are included in relevant and appropriate clinical trials. There is significant evidence that outcomes are improved for patients who are treated in environments in which research is the norm or who are involved in cancer trials.

On wider research, the Scottish Government is supporting a postdoctoral clinical lectureship to investigate a new avenue for potential treatment, and is co-funding a medical research charity to evaluate compounds to determine whether they should be developed further as potential treatments.

I thank members who have contributed to the debate, which has been wide ranging and has underlined the fact that all members across the chamber are united in a desire to help people who are affected by mesothelioma. Significant progress has already been made on cancer, but despite everything that we have achieved, we know that we must keep looking at how we can do better. That is why we are committed to publishing a 10-year cancer strategy that will look at how, as a nation, we can work towards our longer-term goals to improve patient outcomes and experience.