Former shipyard worker calls for saving Barrow Specialist Benefits Center from closure

A FORMER shipyard worker brings his experience to stop calls for the closure of a site specializing in the processing of DWP claims for occupational diseases.

James Queen, 74, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung mucosa associated with exposure to asbestos, which occurred decades ago.

Following his diagnosis, James commissioned asbestos disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and where his exposure might have occurred.

The Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support (MAVS) group helped James get the government compensation he is entitled to.

The claim was processed at Phoenix House in Barrow and advisers from MAVSG and Phoenix House worked together to ensure James received the benefits to which he was entitled within four weeks of submitting his claim.

Now threatened with closure, Phoenix House is the only DWP center for terminal illness claims, administering workers’ compensation disability claims and providing a lump sum to financially support patients.

James has now joined his legal team in demanding that Phoenix House remain open, arguing that the closure will be a blow to those facing a life-changing work-related illness diagnosis.

Helen Tomlin, Asbestos Disease Specialist at Irwin Mitchell, who supports James, said: “Through our work, we are helping many people like James whose lives are devastated by asbestos-related diseases, often decades after their initial exposure gained momentum.

“In these times of trauma, people need all the support they can get, and prompt access to social benefits and legal advice is a lifeline for patients who have to come to terms with the life-changing news. allows them to face their diagnosis without financial worries over their heads.

“For 20 years, Phoenix House has played a key role in helping people like James; its closure would be devastating to others facing navigating the benefits process in the future and a real loss of expertise and specialist knowledge accumulated by DWP’s Phoenix House-based benefits advisors.

“The loss of this knowledge will mean that claims for benefits will be handled by inexperienced and overworked benefits counselors in other centers across the country, and patients and their families will lose access to financial assistance, just when they need it the most.

“We are determined to support James and the Forum of Asbestos Victim Support Groups in their campaign to keep this vital resource open for the benefit of others.”

James retired in 2016 and has always been a fit and active man, but in 2022 after a fall he needed hip surgery.

It was then that doctors noticed a shadow on his lung and following biopsy tests, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma on July 6.

James started chemotherapy in August.

Upon hearing that Phoenix House was under threat of closure, James, from Broadway, Liverpool, wanted to support MAVS and join the campaign to keep the center open. His activism has included reaching out to local MP Dan Carden to seek his support.

James said: “My mesothelioma diagnosis was a real shock to me. I suspected something was wrong, but because I was taking care of Pat, I didn’t have time to think about it and figure out if it was something serious.

“Cancer is always something that happens to someone else and when your mind is spinning with thoughts of treatments and options, the last thing you want to worry about is money.

“I had no idea what I was entitled to and MAVS and Phoenix House quickly processed my application for DWP benefits. It was a godsend for me and my family. I just don’t know how we could have It would be a hard blow for the others if this center were to be closed.

“I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but I was able to start treatment and I’m trying to be positive. It would be a tragedy if this support was taken away from others and I cannot believe the government is coming up with such a disgusting decision when so many people are struggling.

“I’ve worked all my life and never claimed a penny until now. It simply cannot be fair for patients with terminal illnesses to make claims without any support. We must do everything we can to stop this and save another 41 walk-in centers slated for closure.

“I am determined to do all I can so that others do not miss out on the help and advice I have received. I did not expect to be in this position and people should think about how they would feel in similar circumstances and help us protect these vital services.

John Flanagan, a support worker at MAVS, said: “Despite the asbestos ban in place for over 20 years, victims continue to come forward to need our support. Phoenix House plays a vital role in helping these people get the help they need and the loss of such an essential service would be devastating.

“We are calling on people in Liverpool, Barrow and beyond to join us as we are doing everything we can to encourage an overhaul of a shutdown that would leave people facing asbestos-related illness with far fewer options of resolve in the face of such a terrible time in their lives.”

A protest against the closure will take place tomorrow outside Phoenix House in Barrow.

Anyone wishing to get involved in the campaign should contact John Flanagan at MAVS on 0151 236 1895.

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