Belfast Telegraph

Asbestosis sufferer using own funds to help others

by Fiona Rutherford

North Belfast health campaigner Arthur Rafferty has been using his own money to send possible asbestosis sufferers to Liverpool for a vital diagnosis.

Mr Rafferty is suing Belfast Health and Social Care Trust for what he claims was a “wrongful diagnosis” of the condition which has ruined the 71-year-old ex-boxer’s health.

He is awaiting a High Court hearing next month, which could see him awarded enough damages to help his fellow sufferers — and open the floodgates to the thousands of other local people made ill through exposure to asbestos.

He founded the charity Asbestos Support Northern Ireland (ASNI) in a bid to gain recognition and compensation for people with asbestosis and says he is at a loss as to why chest specialists here still cannot diagnose people with the disease.

Mr Rafferty used his own savings to send a north Belfast man to Liverpool for a consultation with asbestosis specialist, Dr Chris Warburton, earlier this month.

This week, Mr Rafferty sent a 78-year-old woman from west Belfast to the same doctor.

He said: “I’m asking the government for money to help me send them over. They say we have competent people over here but I asked who they are because it has taken them 11 years and they still didn’t diagnose me. I had to go to Liverpool for a diagnosis.

“People are coming in day and daily saying the doctors won’t give them the proper answers so I go around offices and shops asking for the money to help them.”

Mr Rafferty said doctors here were inclined to tell people they had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is normally linked to smoking, rather than asbestosis. The two diseases cause similar symptoms and often only an MRI scan can differentiate between them.

“If the doctor says they don’t have asbestosis, they don’t get compensation,” said Mr Rafferty.

A handful of politicians, such as north Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and east Belfast MLA Robin Newton, have begun working on his behalf.

Mr Dodds has been fighting his corner in Westminster and asking questions about why people here can expect about £30,000 in compensation while in the rest of the UK, they are more likely to receive around £130,000.

Mr Rafferty said: “My case will open the floodgates. There was 1,100 dockers in our union and ASNI has people coming from the building trade and plumbers as well as shipyard workers. I know plenty of dockers that have died recently and nobody told them to go for a scan.

“Money’s no good to me now — I’m 71 — but if I get a big claim I’ll be sending people to Liverpool by the busload.”

Last year the Northern Ireland Assembly ruled that people suffering pleural plaques, a side effect of asbestos exposure, should be entitled to compensation.

But the British government rejected the move and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, has referred the Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) Bill to the Supreme Court.

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