Funding for first mesothelioma nurse specialist in West Midlands

The charity Mesothelioma UK is calling for expressions of interest from NHS hospitals across the West Midlands to host the first specialist nurse for the condition in the region.

“Mesothelioma patients in the area will now have the support of a clinical nurse specialist”

John Blunt

It supports 24 clinical nurse specialists across the UK, each based within an NHS hospital and providing specialist support, information, treatment and care.

The new post has initially been made possible by a private donation of £50,000, made by John Blunt from Solihull who lost his wife, Dr Janet Leese, to mesothelioma in 2014 at the age of just 57.

Dr Leese was a GP and, following her diagnosis in November 2013, the couple asked solicitors to investigate the circumstances of her exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma UK said the donation was based on the settlement of the case, though it did not disclose any further information.

The UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with more than 2,700 people diagnosed each year and sadly, this number continues to rise.

There is currently no known cure for the disease and prognosis is poor, with only around half of patients living past one year after diagnosis, noted the charity.

Head of services for Mesothelioma UK, Liz Darlison, said: “We’re so grateful that John decided to use the settlement he received for Janet to fund a mesothelioma nurse.

“The charity has wanted to strengthen links with the clinical teams working in the area for a long time. We’re delighted.”

Mr Blunt said: “Janet and I struggled to get the specialist help and support we needed locally so it was important to us both that Janet was able to leave a legacy which would help others in the West Midlands.

“Mesothelioma patients in the area will now have the support of a clinical nurse specialist which, I hope, will make a big difference to them.”

Alida Coates, partner at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, added: “This case took four years to settle and was concluded just days before going to trial.

“Thanks to John’s perseverance, a settlement was finally reached and I’m happy that it is being used to support Mesothelioma UK to help others.”

Meanwhile, a mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist who has begun transforming care for armed forces personnel and veterans in Southampton has now been made full-time due to her success, after additional funding was revealed for the post earlier this year.

Last year, Helen Wilkes became the first mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist in the UK to focus on patients with a military background when she was appointed part-time.

The role, based at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, was initially funded by Mesothelioma UK but has now been extended due to a contribution from local asbestos charity HASAG.

Around 80 to 100 armed forces veterans are diagnosed with the rare and aggressive form of cancer each year in the UK.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, asbestos was often used in military vehicles, ships and buildings as a fire-resistant material.

In her role, Ms Wilkes helps patients from pre-diagnosis throughout their care journey and is the primary clinical contact for Mesothelioma UK’s government-funded armed forces information, advice and support service.

She spends time manning the charity’s national helpline and works with local support groups to raise awareness of the disease, treatment options and clinical trial opportunities.

Mesothelioma UK

Helen Wilkes

Helen Wilkes

She also provides guidance on specific benefits and compensation claims for armed forces personnel and veterans, as well as industrial workers exposed to asbestos.

Ms Wilkes said: “I am extremely pleased HASAG has shown its support for my role by helping to make it full-time and ensuring we can benefit more patients.

“I often find that once people have left the armed forces family, they are no longer sure what support is out there for them,” she said.

“When this is compounded with a cancer diagnosis, I’m there to empower them and give them the right support, advice and information.”

Ms Wilkes is also working with experts at the University of Sheffield to carry out a military experience study to see how veterans can be better supported in the future.