North East campaigners applaud new multi-million research centre for asbestos-related cancer

Mesothelioma has affected thousands of North East workers who were exposed to asbestos in shipbuilding, construction and automotive industries:

Thousands of North East victims of a deadly disease are set to benefit from a new £5m research centre into the fight against mesothelioma.

The region is a blackspot for the cancer because asbestos was heavily used in shipbuilding, construction and the automotive industry. But Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement this week of a multi-million pound boost into research of the condition was warmly welcomed across the area.

The cash will fund a new centre into the life-limiting condition which has had a devastating effect on former shipyard workers in Newcastle and Sunderland, as well as places like Washington and South Tyneside. Chris Knighton, 69, has dedicated her life to campaigning to help those affected by the deadly condition since her husband Mick died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in 2001.

The Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, based in Wallsend, North Tyneside, has raised more than £1m for research and supported hundreds of people. She said:

“I’m delighted the Government has allocated £5m to establish a Mesothelioma Centre for Research.

Mesothelioma has been underfunded for decades and its fantastic the government has now recognised it’s one of the most challenging of cancers; as its only through high calibre research can we ever improve diagnosis, treatment and care for those affected by this devastating disease.”

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, who has helped lead the campaign to persuade the government to compensate military veterans who contracted the cancer, said:

The British Lung Foundation has thanked me and many others who persuaded the government to adopt the cause of mesothelioma research.

This is welcome although I am only giving it two cheers because the funding is one-off and should be annual so that mesothelioma research is put on a par with other comparable cancers. But from acorns come oaks and pressure will continue to do the right thing.”

Mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the lining of internal organs such as the lungs, which is usually connected to exposure to asbestos.

Death rates in South and North Tyneside are more than twice the average for the rest of the country. The boroughs have the second and third highest rates of mortality for the asbestos-related lung cancer in England and Wales according to the Office for National Statistics.

In total 186 people in South and North Tyneside died from mesothelioma between 2010 and 2014. In Newcastle there were 85 deaths between 2010 and 2014 related to the cancer, County Durham had 105, Sunderland 94, Northumberland 91, and Gateshead 65.

Washington is believed to have a high number of sufferers after some workers at the former asbestos manufacturer Turner and Newall – which owned the former Washington Chemical Company factory – were exposed to the deadly dust.

It is estimated more than 60,000 people will die over the next 30 years as a result of the cancer, with the region expected to be among the hardest hit. Since 1981 there have been over 3,000 deaths in the North caused by mesothelioma.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive, The British Lung Foundation said:

“This announcement is fantastic news for people with mesothelioma, and follows our campaign over many years for more research into the disease.

There is no cure for mesothelioma, but for too long research into this deadly cancer has been underfunded. We look forward to working with Government to make sure this funding has the sustained impact patients deserve.”