More compensation needed for the devastating effects of asbestos

Dianne McKay writes movingly of her father’s asbestos-related disease and need for compensation to be extended to women with mesothelioma.


It is February in Glasgow, and through the window of the relatives room I can see the cathedral. All lit up against the dark night sky, its beauty for a moment replaces the sadness in my heart. Just a stone’s throw away, my precious dad is ‘sleeping’.

This is the sleep partly induced by the syringe driver which has morphine in it. It is connected to my dad and it is necessary because what is important now is that he suffers no more.

Who would have thought that at fifteen years of age his fate was already sealed? An apprentice electrician on the shipyards, just a boy who loved both playing football and watching it.

My dad would in days to come talk about his fellow workers, who would play football with pieces of asbestos. They were blissfully unaware of the dangers. He would become quite angry as he recalled that once the dangers of asbestos had been realised, he was told if symptoms did not show in the twenty years since exposure he would be clear. It was sixty-five years later it reared its ugly head.

As my dad was told after an admission to hospital, he had indeed been affected by asbestos. He was thought to have pleural mesothelioma. Initially when I heard my dad’s probable diagnosis I thought about the other men and women who came into contact with asbestos on the shipyards. For some perhaps a trade they wanted to do, but for many others a job taken because of the need for work, a job for people who didn’t get a lot of chances in life. My dad had wanted to be a journalist. If he had had the chance to do that would he have met the same fate?

In my career as a nurse I had looked after people with cancers; this cancer, however, I had little knowledge of. I remember talking to a junior doctor on my dad’s ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and explaining that it seemed to me that this was a disease people just didn’t talk about. It is too horrific.

Those were dark days, and as a family we tried to support each other. The specialist nurse from the palliative care team was supporting my dad and the rest of us nearly every day of his last hospital admission. I often found myself wondering how she coped with her job. I left nursing two years ago for personal reasons and there was much talk with regard to the lack of compassion of staff in the NHS around that time. If we expect nursing staff to do a good job and not suffer from ‘burnout’, they should have a level of pay that allows them to have a life outside their work. By that I mean being able to eat, pay rent, perhaps even having an interest outside of work. We were shown compassion many a time by the majority of staff. Porters, domestics, nurses, auxiliaries and a very sympathetic consultant. He met with us and made us feel he had time to answer our many questions and even though the news he had to deliver to us was bad, he still managed to support us.

There was talk of getting my dad home, but he had taken a turn for the worse and that looked impossible. When my dad was discharged home in October, the mesothelioma specialist nurse had tried to get him to speak to Marie Curie nurses who would be involved in caring for him. Even though he had supported the charity for many years he felt that this was a signal that his time was up and he wasn’t ready for that. He finally agreed to them coming to see him just days before his last hospital admission. Alas, he was admitted to hospital one Monday and they were due to visit that Thursday. It was not to be.

At one point we were asked what we thought about my dad being transferred to a hospice. I have never been in a hospice but I have heard a little about them. As a family we all agreed that the nursing care would be no different, and as all his current nursing staff knew my dad we felt to move him would not be in his best interests. So his last days were spent in a single room in Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Much as we had hoped to have my dad back home, I wonder if as a family we would have coped. The nursing care that he needed, and the strain that would have been put on our mum, who has her own health issues, I fear would have been too great. To the families who manage to do this for their loved one, I absolutely salute you. My dad was a very proud man and I was allowed to be his daughter, not his nurse, and I know that is what he would have wanted.

In the Accident and Emergency department on a previous admission, when I asked for the nurse to help him to use a urinal, I honestly thought that I must have grown horns by the way she looked at me. For the dying, in the end, I believe comfort is the most important thing, but we must strive equally to preserve dignity.

My dad was a man who believed in equality and fairness. Recently there have been moves to compensate women with mesothelioma. In doing the simple task of washing their partner’s, dad’s or uncle’s overalls they have been exposed to asbestos fibres and suffered this disease. Surely these women must be compensated?

My dad lost his voice a few days before he died, caused ultimately by this illness. We found ways to communicate, and we became his voice. It is my hope that in writing this I can help in some small way the people who are struggling to have their voices heard.

There is no cure for this disease. Research is ongoing. A woman in Derby, Mavis Nye, has had the disease for 8 years, whereas most people with a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis die within one year. I am sure Mavis is important to her family but she is also very important for the ‘mesowarriors’ as she calls them. Mavis has an immune system that fights this cancer. This provides hope for all the people diagnosed with this disease.

2,500 people are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma in Scotland. All public buildings that were built before the year 2000 will have asbestos in them. More teachers and other public sector workers are being diagnosed with asbestos related diseases. It is imperative that there is more education and awareness surrounding the care of buildings which contain asbestos.

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7 thoughts on “More compensation needed for the devastating effects of asbestos

  1. I very much agree. As a young teachers’ union official, I was called to a school at the start of term where the teachers had come back only to find asbestos removal people stiil wandering about in spacesuits. I thought we had resolved that but recent reported cases make me doubt it. Such compensation should be extended beyond those who worked directly with asbestos to all those who suffer as a result of casual contact

  2. Dianne none of my family has so far had an asbestos related illness But this is my story I am telling it for the first time.
    Hope you don’t mind
    My mother had 2 bouts of cancer both in the nose both times successfully treated. She was always looking checking for the signs.
    Then the weight started falling off she would not go to the GP . When we did get her to go our GP sent her straight away to Crosshouse hospital. She told me later waiting for the x ray results. She . could hear other patients being told see you next week etc .She said she new it was bad news because of the expressions on the xray technitians faces. She was told you are coming in Tuesday. My brother brought her home.
    I knew what it was without being told I lived with my mum and dad .my brothers with their families . Well she was told it was cancer of the stomach and it was terminal. The whole family tried to help . That disease over that year hit her with every dirty trick it could. Septiceamia the lot We had a cabinet full of medication. I agreed to let her come home . I was taking the decisions because my fathers health had broken down .Under the strain. She was in and out of hospital my brothers and their families would visit during the day . I would sit with her all night go to work in the morning.
    My brother put in a downstairs toilet and we moved her bed into the living room . So as she wanted she could come home.
    She got one night . I could not get her to waken for medication. By chance the MacMillan Nurse arrived She told me my mother was in pain.
    So I told her to make the call .While at 2am I contacted my brothers to tell them mother was going back in .
    I have left a lot out we had great support from all the Macmillan Nurse people Crosshouse Hospital GPS Beatson Centre etc
    Morphine yes I went into visit got told mum was in that mutch pain they were waiting on the doctor authorizing more she died 2 weeks later.
    My father I day asked me to phone the doc with a cough .
    2 weeks later he to died of cancer.
    I know what its like watching relatives go like that . I know what it can do to families.
    I really do wish you the best Dianne

    1. Dear David,

      Firstly I offer my condolences on the loss of your mum and dad.
      I am sure those nights ,you sat with your mum would have given her comfort.
      Best wishes to you and your family.

  3. Just thought in March I got new central heating installed .Got told I have asbestos in my ceiling. This came to light when a labourer put his foot through the ceiling . He was not hurt. Ceiling was fixed and treated . I have a lung condition diagnosed 3 years ago.
    Me and my oxygen equipment were covered in dust it got inside my oxygen equipment

  4. Thanks for your comment Dianne. I was just trying to say I know what you went through .In our case there was some black humour.
    When we went for our mothers ashes outside we the funeral parlour . My brother said put her in the boot .I said no chance .Right in the back then .
    I said she never went in the back seat in her life and she is not starting now. So my Sister in Law got in the back . I got in the Front seat with mother on my lap .It was just superstition. I am sure I heard her laughing . Because she would have. Good Luck and Success remember the good times . All the best.

  5. Just read in todays paper that David Laws while a Cabinet Minister in the UK coalition Government has said he held up cross government initiatives .
    This included Asbestos controls .as leverage to get his own way on certain Lib Dem priorities . As usual he is writing a book .

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