The costs of treating patients with asbestos disease in Wales will continue to be shouldered by the NHS with negligent employers and their insurers escaping liability after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, says Thompsons Solicitors.

Decades of employers' negligence has led to asbestos disease becoming a major financial burden on the NHS in Wales. Backed by trade unions and introduced into the Welsh Assembly by Labour Member Mick Antoniw, The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill sought to impose on negligent employers and their insurers the medical costs of diagnosing and treating asbestos disease victims which has until now been borne by the NHS.

The Supreme Court ruled on technical grounds that the Bill fell outside the legislative powers of the Welsh Assembly and would infringe insurers' property rights under the European Convention.

Ian McFall, Head of Asbestos at Thompsons, comments: “Asbestos disease has devastating consequences for the individuals and their families, but also on society generally due to the costs of medical treatment currently paid for by the NHS. We have long held the view that it should be negligent employers - the polluters - who failed to make working conditions safe, and their insurers, who should meet this financial burden.

“The power devolved to the Welsh Assembly to organise and fund the NHS in Wales should have enabled the Assembly to enact this Bill. The principle behind it was sound and just.

“The Association of British Insurers (ABI) who opposed the Bill serve only the interests of the insurance industry to protect their financial bottom line, so it’s not surprising they stepped in to argue against insurers picking up the liability for medical treatment, leaving the NHS lumbered with the cost.

“For the Court to protect rich and powerful insurers who make huge profits, pay out billions of pounds to shareholders and are a good friend to the Conservative Party, by using Human Rights law that the Tories have condemned and ridiculed as meddling from Europe is bitterly ironic.

“We stand firmly by the unions and Welsh Assembly Members who believe the principle that underpins this forward-thinking legislation is consistent with progressive social justice: that the wider costs to society of diagnosing and treating asbestos illnesses should be displaced from the NHS onto the negligent employers who caused the disease and paid for by their insurers.”