Reporting asbestos-related disease

CERTAIN specific categories of death must be reported to the procurator fiscal in Scotland. In its Information and Guidance for Medical Practitioners (2008), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service states that this includes “any death caused by an industrial disease or industrial poisoning”. Similar regulations apply in England and Wales with reports made to HM Coroners.

Although in many cases there may be sufficient medical evidence to accurately diagnose an asbestos-related disease in life, the death must still be reported as “industrial” and it is the role of the procurator fiscal to investigate the death, examine the medical evidence and decide whether to instruct a post mortem.

If the procurator fiscal is not informed of a death, the opportunity to clarify the diagnosis by instructing a post mortem is lost. There can be legal consequences for the GP or healthcare professional in attendance at the time of death in these circumstances. Where a civil case for compensation is being pursed in respect of an asbestos-related disease, there can be difficulties in proceeding with a compensation case if the diagnosis given in life was not conclusive.

If there are conflicting medical opinions in a civil case, the case may not be able to proceed if there is not a post mortem report with retained tissue samples for further analysis. The only recourse open to the family of the deceased would be to establish why a post mortem was not instructed. If a post mortem was not instructed because the death was not reported to the procurator fiscal by the attending healthcare professional, then the healthcare professional may find that a compensation case for loss of opportunity to pursue compensation is taken against them.

The importance of reporting a death that is suspected of being caused by industrial disease or industrial poisoning must not therefore be underestimated.

Clydeside Action on Asbestos on behalf of Dr Audrey Finnegan

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