Fears raised over future of Barrow-based support group amid plan to close health assessment centre

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9 February 2017 8:12PM

A VITAL support group has an uncertain future amid fears an expert industrial injury team in Barrow will be forced to leave the area.

Cumbria Asbestos Related Disease Support (CARDS) is worried about what will happen to the association if staff at Phoenix House are relocated to other sites around the country following a proposed closure of the government building.

READ MORE: Barrow workers at risk of redundancy as health assessment centre set for closure

The worst case scenario is that CARDS, which specialises in care and campaigning for workers and their families affected by chronic health problems such as mesothelioma, will fold.

If you split up the team, and it is a good team, then it will have serious consequences for us.

The Barrow-based group receives huge support from civil servants at Phoenix House who offer guidance on how people can get disability benefits, and without it the group would struggle to get the right expertise.

Bob Pointer, of CARDS, said: "If they move to other places CARDS won't survive.

"It means we wouldn't have a specialist benefit office for the worst affected area for asbestos in the country.

"If you split up the team, and it is a good team, then it will have serious consequences for us.

"We won't have the expertise - now we can ring up at any time.

"If we lose it that it's another kick in the teeth to put it bluntly. It could have serious repercussions.

"It needs to be kept going."

 Phoenix House in Stephen Street, Barrow.

Phoenix House in Stephen Street, Barrow.

The government is reorganising the estates owned by the Department for Work and Pensions, and plans to close health and disability assessment offices, and job centres.

Phoenix House, where about 80 DWP civil servants work on processing benefits claims, is one of the sites at risk. Staff may need to locate or be made redundant if the plan gets the green light following a consultation.

 Bob Pointer, from Cumbria Asbestos Related Disease Support.

Bob Pointer, from Cumbria Asbestos Related Disease Support.

Mr Pointer believes the move would be devastating for claimants in Barrow as the borough has the highest rate of mortality for mesothelioma in England at 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people, which is triple the national average.

He said: "Industrial compensation is there for a reason because people get hurt at work or they got an industrial disease. It prevents them from having a dire retirement and leaving widows with an inadequate pension.

"They are moving civil service jobs about the country but it feels like they are pushing everything down to London."

Asbestos, commonly used in the shipbuilding industry and in older construction methods, was banned in the UK in 1999.

Exposure to the chemical can have a dormancy time of between 15 and 50 years before resulting in the rare malignant lung cancer of mesothelioma.

READ MORE: Family demands answers after inquest over shipyard worker's death

Statistics show 49 people died as a direct result of mesothelioma in Barrow between 2010 and 2014.

John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, has raised the concerns over Phoenix House to the government minister in charge and in the House of Commons.

He said: "The staff in the industrial injuries team in Barrow do an amazing job and it will be madness to discard their expertise in this way."

CARDS meet on the third Monday of each month from 2pm to 4pm at the Barrow & District Disability Association, offering benefits and legal advice, including help with filling in forms, and bereavement support.

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