PLANS for the health service to recoup the cost of medical treatment from companies that exposed workers to asbestos are going out to consultation.

A bill lodged at the Scottish Parliament by Stuart McMillan MSP would introduce legislation to ensure that the NHS can claw back the money spent caring for people who have contracted conditions such as mesothelioma.

Mr McMillan said that more than £20 million a year was estimated to be spent on diagnosing and treating patients and while the NHS can already claim money back from insurers when people have been involved in accidents, there is no such system for those with industrial diseases.

Campaign group Clydeside Action on Asbestos said it expected the consultation, which is open until March 30, to provoke a negative response from the insurance industry which would be left with a multi-million pound annual bill if the proposal becomes law.

But Phyllis Craig, chairwoman of Clydeside Action on Asbestos, said: "It is widely accepted that the number of people being diagnosed with asbestos conditions is increasing placing an ever greater burden on the NHS and palliative care services.

"The responsibility for meeting these costs rests with the employers who exposed their staff to asbestos. It is only just that the employers and their insurers have to meet the costs of care that result from their negligence."