Miners' lung disease: 'Thousands may have pneumoconiosis'

plain view x-ray
Image caption Miners were only offered chest X-rays, which do not show the same level of detail as CT scans, says the union

Thousands of ex-miners could be unaware they have a deadly lung disease because they were not given adequate scans, a union has said.

Two miners who worked at Thoresby colliery, Nottinghamshire, have been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis after CT scans paid for by the UDM. Both had the all-clear after X-rays at work.

The union and a group of MPs have called on the government to fund CT scans for all ex-miners.

UK Coal is yet to respond to the BBC.

Image caption Crawford Hunter and Ray Nunn said they felt let down and devastated

The Union of Democratic Mineworkers paid for five former miners to have CT scans, which show the lungs in much greater detail, and two found they had pneumoconiosis.

Union president Jeff Wood accused UK Coal of failing its workers by not offering the scans.

"They said the cost was too much and they didn't think it was necessary because, on the advice from their medical advisers, the plain view X-rays were sufficient," he said.

'Black lung'

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • Pneumoconiosis is a long-term and irreversible disease characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue
  • It encompasses conditions including asbestosis, silicosis and "the black lung" caused by inhalation of dust
  • There are often many years between exposure to dust and the onset of the disease
  • It is known to affect ceramics workers, foundry workers and quarry workers, as well as miners
  • The severity of symptoms varies, but include shortness of breath, coughing and a tight chest
  • The disease killed 147 people in 2013, according to Health and Safety Executive figures
  • There were 215 new cases assessed for Industrial Injuries and Disablement Benefit in 2014

When Ray Nunn and Crawford Hunter worked at the Thoresby pit, they, like all other workers, were offered chest X-rays every three to four years, which they said always came back "satisfactory".

The last X-ray they had at Thoresby was in 2013, whereas their CT scans were performed late last year.

The pair, both 51, who were made redundant when the colliery closed last summer, said they felt "let down".

Mr Hunter, who started at the pit in 1989, said "When I got the message, I was doing Christmas shopping in Nottingham.

"It gutted me really because I wasn't expecting it. It was a very sombre day - I was just devastated."

Mr Nunn, who was a miner for 35 years, said he had suspicions the X-ray tests were not good enough.

Image copyright Chris Upton
Image caption Thoresby Colliery closed in July leaving hundreds out miners out of work

Mr Wood said he had suspected for many years that plain view X-rays were not of good enough quality to pick up the early signs of the disease.

"Of the small number we've tested, 40% have pneumoconiosis," he said.

"Of the 120,000 former miner workers alive today - how many of them have got pneumoconiosis?"

Nottinghamshire MPs Alan Meale and Mark Spencer have sent a letter signed by 25 cross-party MPs calling on the government to pay for CT scans for all living ex-miners.

The government and UK Coal have yet to respond to the BBC's requests for comments.

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