Recovery of medical care costs for asbestos related conditions is likely to be a topical issue over the coming year.
It has been possible for the Government to recover NHS costs incurred when treating the victims of accidents for some time. This was initially provided for in relation to road traffic accidents by the Road Traffic (NHS Charges) Act 1999 and was extended to include all types of injury by the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003. However, disease is excluded from the definition of injury and therefore costs in respect of treatment of industrial diseases are not recoverable.
Legislation was passed in Wales to allow the recovery of these costs in November 2013, but it was referred to the Supreme Court. The court's decision is awaited following a hearing on the matter last year.
Proposals for a Scottish Bill, which would allow the NHS to recover the costs of treating people who had contracted industrial diseases such as mesothelioma, have also been discussed. Stuart McMillan MSP was working with Clydeside Action on Asbestos to introduce a Member's Bill last year and the issue was debated in the Scottish Parliament in May 2014 when the (then) Minister for Health, Michael Matheson, noted that the government was "watching the outcome of the Supreme Court's deliberations carefully and will consider the issue once it has ruled".
The impact which the Supreme Court's decision on the Welsh legislation will have on the path taken by any Scottish Bill remains to be seen. There can be no doubt however that any developments in this area will be of great interest to the insurance industry as it considers whether the overall costs of industrial disease cases may increase as a result.
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