HASAG Asbestos Disease Support is dedicated to supporting people affected by Asbestos-related diseases in the South, South East, London and the Home Counties.

2020 is a year in which the entire world changed. The reminiscences and the relentless public and private painful turmoil will, perhaps, mark the year as one best left forgotten and abandoned to the annals of history.

The advancement of the COVID-19 virus to pandemic proportions; restrictions, distancing, lockdowns, social unrest, panic, dread and so much individual sorrow and loss.

The impact upon the public at large has been colossal but the impact upon those individuals and those families who are impacted by asbestos related diseases and asbestos related malignancies has been so much greater.

All of us at HASAG Asbestos Disease Support work with and know those asbestos patients who have borne the worst of this pandemic. Knowing the personalities of these individuals and their families and recognising their courage, valour and good old fashioned pluck in the face of incredible adversity, we pen this first article of 2021 as a signpost to hope for the future not a reminiscence of anguish of the past.

Even in the face of tremendous adversity we and all of those we support look for the constructive and the sanguine and it is this which is both the hope and spirit that we wish to engender in this article. It is in that vein that we wish to inform you, dear reader, about access to immunotherapy treatment.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, immunotherapy was not available on the NHS for the treatment of mesothelioma outside of a clinical trial. In practical terms, this meant that for those who did not have an extremely strong legal civil claim, effectively one in which the defendant company or their insurer had admitted culpability, the only possible access to immunotherapy treatment was to fund this expensive treatment themselves and the reality is that this never a viable option.

In this regard there is a very significant positive to be taken from 2020 and from the pandemic as in order to ensure less hospital attendance by those suffering with mesothelioma and the associated risks, NHS England and subsequently adopted by NHS Wales, treatment regime changes were implemented.

On 3rd August 2020, the option to give nivolumab monotherapy rather than second line chemotherapy to reduce risk of immunosuppression were authorised and introduced as an NHS recommended treatment.

These changes were launched to ensure greater flexibility in the management of cancer, very importantly to include mesothelioma, during the pandemic.  The regime will remain in place until at least 1 April 2021.

The guidance suggests that if treatment is to be provided, patients should have the choice as to whether they are treated at home or in hospital. This is especially important during the pandemic as even though there is a suggestion that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases may result in NHS chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments being suspended, treatment delivered at home and, specifically, nivolumab monotherapy should not be affected in the same way, which can only be regarded as a positive for those suffering from mesothelioma.

We at HASAG will keep driving the government and the NHS to research and to fund treatment for all asbestos related disease victims.

We will continue to keep at the forefront of research and will ensure that the research into treatments such as the ipilimumab-nivolumab combination, which the MAPS2 trial showed was more effective than nivolumab alone, will continue to be researched and we hope that our impetus will speed the approval and recommendation of such treatments via the NHS.

In 2020 we have also devised and implemented our Counselling Service. This will ensure that you or a loved one who has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, can be put in contact with an expert and recommended counsellor to provide support, which will be totally funded by HASAG Asbestos Disease Support.

2020 was a challenging and difficult year but we are used to adversity and can assure you that despite the challenges that we all face HASAG asbestos disease support will be here for you, offering support, fighting your corner and raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos.