Pneumoconiosis during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

During the Coronavirus Pandemic the NUM, like many other organisations, has had to close its offices and suspend its surgeries because of the lockdown and social distancing rules. This does not mean that we are no longer available to help and assist members, former members and their families throughout this crisis.

Some staff and NUM Officials have been doing what they can from home to assist those getting in touch for help and advice and this will continue to be the case until things can return to normal. It is not an ideal situation and means that things take longer to do but it is the best that we can do in the current circumstances.

At the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic the NUM recognised that due to the nature of the virus our members and former members would be more at risk, because of their underlying health conditions caused from working in the nation’s mines, of a less favourable outcome should they contract Covid19. It is sad to say that from the reports we are getting back that this fear was not unfounded.

Coal miners (and their families) can access various schemes to receive compensation if as a result of their working down the out they suffer from pneumoconiosis. Some of these schemes can be accessed as a posthumous claim by the family upon the death of a former mineworker if there is official evidence that the person suffered from the disease. The main way to do this is if pneumoconiosis is recorded on the death certificate or if the person was in receipt of an award for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) for pneumoconiosis while alive.

The NUM has had a long running campaign to ensure that where there is evidence that the person suffered from pneumoconiosis it is recorded on the death certificate so that the surviving family can access the compensation. The use as a general term “Industrial Disease” on death certificates, without specifying which disease, is not enough to access the compensation available through the DWP, 1974 Scheme, 1979 Act or the £1,500 grant from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO).

We have also had issues where an individual has been diagnosed as suffering from pneumoconiosis by the DWP and given a low assessment of disability which has been shown to be incorrect upon post-mortem examination. This would normally allow the family to claim an uplift of the benefits in payment before the person passed away. Because of the issues we have seen in the past the Union was concerned that during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Covid19 would be recorded on the death certificate with no reference to the pre-existing health conditions like pneumoconiosis or COPD and that “Industrial Disease” would be used as a general term so as not to have to identify which industrial disease it was.

The NUM’s concerns, of increased risk of death from Covid19 due to underlying conditions present in former mineworkers, the failure to record pneumoconiosis on death certificates and the refusal to perform a post-mortem in these cases has been taken up by a group of MP’s in coalmining / former coalmining constituencies who have co-signed a letter written by Stephanie Peacock MP for Barnsley East to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP. The NUM would like to thank them for their support.

A Joint letter signed by Chris Kitchen on behalf of the NUM and Conor McGinn MP for St Helens North and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Coalfield Communities has been sent to Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP Secretary of State for Justice. The NUM would like to thank Conor and the MP’s of the APPG Coalfield Communities for their support on this issue.

Much of the above would equally apply to Mesothelioma, Asbestosis and Pleural Thickening where the DWP have refused to allow claims for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit on the grounds that Mineworkers and former Mineworkers do not meet the prescription for these Industrial Diseases. This is being challenged on an individual case by case basis and has been raised with the DWP and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) as it is wrong to say that there was no exposure to silicon (Sandstone) dust and asbestos in the pits. The NUM will continue to object to these decisions and gain support from MP’s in former Mining Constituencies to address these issues.

The NUM will continue to push for the accurate recording of all Industrial Diseases on death certificates in order that the families can claim the compensation that they are entitled to.