Welsh Assembly Member Mick Antoniw is proposing to bring forward the Asbestos (Recovery of Medical Costs) Bill 2012 as a Private Members Bill at the National Assembly. A Plenary debate will be held on Wednesday 16 May when Mr Antoniw hopes to gain the support of other Assembly Members (AM) to allow his Bill to proceed.

Before becoming an AM Mr Antoniw was a solicitor at legal practice Thompsons which has acted for thousands of asbestos victims and their families over the years. He has seen the suffering of asbestos disease, particularly from the invariably fatal asbestos cancer mesothelioma and the misery this brings to bereaved families. He believes that negligent employers, or their insurers, should be held accountable for the cost borne by a financially hard pressed NHS of the ill health suffered by their employees through asbestos exposure.

Hundreds of Welsh workers suffer from asbestos related disease and exposure to asbestos has caused thousands more deaths over the past decades. Many victims suffer prolonged and often progressive ill health leading to premature death. It is estimated that the human cost will continue for decades with the peak in mortality not expected until at least 2015.

Mr Antoniw said : “For many of those suffering from asbestos disease, negligence and breaches of health and safety law by former employers can be established in civil actions for compensation brought by sufferers and their families.

“The cost of treating asbestos disease places a huge financial strain on an already over-stretched NHS in Wales. I believe that where an employer has been negligent and civil compensation is due NHS Wales should be reimbursed with the cost of medical treatment.”

Among the main workplaces where asbestos exposure occurred are power stations, steel works, shipyards, lagging industry, boiler manufacture, engineering and construction. The risk of asbestos exposure also exists in buildings, including public sector workplaces and schools, where asbestos materials are present.

Mr Antoniw has brought together a team of experts to talk to AMs about asbestos-related disease as well as trade union leaders representing workers and some families who have been affected. Chaired by AM Vaughan Gething, AMs will hear from Dr Ian Williamson, Consultant Chest Physician and one of Wales’ leading experts on asbestos and respiratory disease; Andy Richards, President of the Wales TUC and John Phillips of the GMB Union.

Mr Gething said: “I am backing the Bill because I want to see justice done. Many years may have passed since employers negligently exposed people to asbestos but the suffering of the victims and the families goes on. It is never too late to hold companies to account for the full cost of their negligence and the idea of reimbursing the NHS means that some good can come by holding those responsible to account in full for the tragedy which has blighted the lives of thousands of Welsh families.”