Former Shipyard Worker With Asbestos-Related Cancer Condemns ‘Disgusting’ Plans To Close Sole UK Special Benefits Centre For Industrial Disease
A former shipyard worker from Merseyside living with asbestos-related disease is lending his voice to calls to halt the closure of a specialist site for processing work-related illness DWP benefit claims.
James Queen, 74, from Broadway, Liverpool was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with exposure to asbestos, which occurred decades previously.
Following his diagnosis, James instructed specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and where his exposure may have taken place.
Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support (MAVS) group helped James secure the government compensation he is entitled to; the claim was processed at Phoenix House in Barrow-in-Furness and the advisors at MAVSG and Phoenix House worked together to ensure that James received the benefits he was entitled to within four weeks of his application being made.
Now facing closure, Phoenix House is the only DWP centre for terminal disease claims, administering applications for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and providing a lump sum to support patients financially.
James has now joined with his legal team in calling for Phoenix House to remain open, arguing the closure will be a huge blow for those facing a life-changing work-related illness diagnosis.
Expert Opinion“Through our work, we help many people like James whose lives are devastated by asbestos related disease, often decades after their initial exposure has taken pace.
“At such times of trauma, people need all the support they can get and swift access to welfare benefits and legal advice is a lifeline for patients coming to terms with life changing news. The award of benefits means they can face their diagnosis without financial worries hanging over their heads.
“For 20 years, Phoenix House has played a key role in helping people like James; its closure would be devastating to others faced with navigating the benefits process in the future and a real loss of expertise and the specialist knowledge accumulated by the DWP benefits advisors based at Phoenix House.
“The loss of that knowledge will mean that benefits claims will be dealt with by inexperienced and over-worked benefits advisors in other centres around the country, and patients and their families will lose access to financial help, just when they need it most.
“We’re determined to support James and the Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups in their campaign to see this vital resource remain open for the benefit of others.” Helen Tomlin - Solicitor
Originally from Glasgow, James went to work for John Brown and Company (Upper Clyde Shipbuilders) in 1965. Starting as an apprentice shipwright, James worked across all areas of the yard during construction of various ships, including the QE2, which was launched in 1967.
Asbestos materials were in common use in shipbuilding during the period and while working at the Clydebank shipyard, James believes he was exposed to Marinite. A fire resistant board, Marinite contained asbestos which was disturbed when workers cut and drilled into the boards, to fix the boards into position all over the ship.
By 1970, James had met his future wife, Pat, and as she lived in Liverpool, he made plans to move south. James’ apprenticeship finished on 2 February 1970 and the following Tuesday he began work at the Cammell Laird ship repairing docks in Birkenhead, from 1970 until 1973.
James believed he was exposed to asbestos while working on ships in for repair, as much of this work included replacing Marinite boards. Asbestos dust was generated as old boards were removed and the new boards had to be cut to size.
James and Pat married on 29 August 1970 and the couple spent the next 51 years together until Pat’s death from Covid on 23 March 2022. James retired in 2016 and was always a fit and active man.
In December 2021, James developed a pain below his right shoulder blade and was prescribed antibiotics following a telephone appointment with his GP. When his symptoms did not improve, James was too busy caring for Pat, who had developed dementia to follow up his symptoms. James subsequently developed a cough and lost over four stone in weight; something he hadn’t noticed until his doctor told him.
At Pat’s funeral in April, James had a fall and needed a hip operation. It was at this time doctors noticed a shadow on his lung and following biopsy tests, mesothelioma was diagnosed on 6 July.
James started chemotherapy on 15 August and he can’t now do many of the things he used to; other than hospital appointments, he finds it hard to leave home and is being supported by his family
On hearing that Phoenix House was under threat of closure, James wanted to support MAVS and join the campaign to keep the centre open. His activism has included contacting local MP Dan Carden to seek his support.
James said: “My mesothelioma diagnosis came as a real shock to me. I had a suspicion something was wrong but because I was caring for Pat, I didn’t have time to think about it and whether it was anything serious.
“Cancer is always something that happens to someone else and when your mind is spinning with thoughts of treatments and options, the last thing you want to worry about is money.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was entitled to and MAVS and Phoenix House dealt swiftly with my DWP benefits claim. This has been a godsend to me and my family. I simply don’t know how we would have managed without it. It would be a huge blow to others if this centre were to be closed.
“I’m still not sure what the future holds for me, but I have been able to start treatment and I try to be positive. It would be a tragedy if this support was taken away from others and I can’t believe the government is proposing such a disgusting move, when so many people are struggling.
“I’ve worked all my life and never claimed a penny until now. It simply can’t be right that patients with terminal diseases face making claims with no support. We have to do all we can to stop this and save 41 other walk-in centres destined for closure.
“I’m determined to do all I can to see that others don’t miss out on the help and guidance I have benefitted from. I never expected to be in this position and people should reflect on how they would feel in similar circumstances and help us protect these vital services.”
John Flanagan, a support officer at MAVS said: “Despite the ban on asbestos being in place for over 20 years, victims still continue to come forward in need of our support. Phoenix House plays a vital role in helping these people secure the assistance they need and the loss of such an essential service would be devastating.
“We appeal to people in Liverpool, Barrow and elsewhere to join us as we do everything we can to encourage a rethink on a closure that would leave those facing asbestos-related disease with far fewer options for resolution when facing such a terrible moment in their lives.”
A demonstration against the closure will be taking place outside Phoenix House in Barrow on Saturday 15 October. Anyone wishing to get involved with the campaign is asked to contact John Flanagan at MAVS on 0151 236 1895.