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Former Nurse Suffering From Mesothelioma Appeals For Ex Colleagues To Help Lawyers Investigate

Mother-Of-Two Coming To Terms With Terminal Cancer In Battle For Justice


By Suzanne Rutter

An ex nurse coming to terms with the devastating news she is suffering from an incurable asbestos-related disease is calling for anyone who worked with her to come forward with information about how the deadly dust was used in the hospitals she worked at in the 1960s and 1970s as thousands of people mark Workers’ Memorial Day this weekend.

Kalliopi Copley, of Wickersley in Rotherham, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos exposure, in November 2012.

The mum-of-two, who was known as Popi, believes she may have come into contact with the hazardous material while working as a trainee nurse at both Moorgate Hospital in Rotherham and Doncaster Gate Hospital, part of the Rotherham School of Nursing, from 1966 to 1969. She also recalls coming into contact with asbestos at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital, where she worked as a matron for 16 years.

The 66-year-old has now instructed specialist industrial disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help her find out how asbestos was used at the hospitals, which were all undergoing major refurbishment at the time, and if more could have been done to protect her from the killer dust.

Martyn Hayward, from Irwin Mitchell’s Sheffield office representing her, said: “Asbestos-related diseases are the biggest occupational killer of all time and it can take several decades for victims like Kalliopi to develop the debilitating conditions for which there is sadly no cure. It’s well-known that asbestos was installed in public buildings like hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s but we need to know more information about her working conditions and whether more could have been done to protect her.

“We hope as many of Kalliopi’s friends and colleagues who worked with her at the Moorgate, Doncaster Gate and Northern General hospitals will come forward with the crucial information she needs so that we can help her get the justice she deserves before it is too late. Her experience is all the more poignant as thousands of people join forces to mark Workers’ Memorial Day and the people who have died due to exposure to asbestos.”

Kalliopi first started to show the debilitating symptoms of mesothelioma in 2007 when she felt excruciating chest pains. She had fluid drained from her lungs on three occasions, including during one stint at Rotherham General Hospital where she stayed for nine days. Doctors finally told her she was suffering from mesothelioma six months ago and she is currently undergoing radiotherapy at Weston Park Cancer Hospital.

Kalliopi moved to Rotherham from Rhodes in Greece in 1966 after being provided with a letter of introduction from a family friend who had previously worked a nurse in Rotherham.

During her training at the Moorgate and Doncaster Gate hospitals she recalls major refurbishment work being carried out to revamp old out-buildings used for laundry and patient support services, which were located opposite the nurses’ accommodation where she lived. Other parts of the hospital, such as the paediatric unit and operating theatre, were also being refurbished and she believes she was exposed to the asbestos used by the workmen.

Just before she completed her training, she moved to the Northern General Hospital where she progressed from student nurse to assistant matron in charge of the surgical wards. She recalls overseeing a major refurbishment project, which involved installing individual cubicles, painting and upgrading of equipment.

She says she was not offered any protective equipment as she checked on the workers’ progress or warned how detrimental asbestos could be to her health.

Kalliopi, who retired in 2001 and has been married to her husband Walter for 42 years, said: “It’s devastating to think that I’m suffering from this dreadful illness simply because I went to work every day about 40 years ago. When I trained at the Moorgate and Doncaster Gate hospitals I had to walk past the refurbishment work every day but I was never warned that asbestos was being used or how dangerous it is.

“I was much more directly involved in the redevelopment of Sheffield’s Northern General and when I ‘acted up’ for the matron I had to check on the progress of the labourers working there. The areas were not cordoned off and we just had to make our way around whatever activity was going on. 

“I remember contractors and maintenance men removing ceiling tiles, working on the pipe work in ceiling voids and opening up ducts in the floor area, which created a lot of dust.

“I was absolutely distraught when I was told I had mesothelioma and because I’ve worked in the NHS I’m aware the prognosis isn’t good. Thankfully the cancer isn’t as aggressive as it could be but I’ve become quite breathless and need to take things slowly, which is frustrating for me as I’ve always been so independent.

“I hope the other nurses, doctors or hospital staff I worked with will come forward with information about how asbestos might have been used at the hospitals so that I can finally get some answers about why I’m suffering this terrible illness.”

Anyone with information about the working conditions at the Moorgate, Doncaster Gate and Northern General hospital should contact Martyn Hayward at Irwin Mitchell’s Sheffield office on 0114 2744420 or email martyn.hayward@irwinmitchell.com.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise related to Mesothelioma Compensation Claims