§ Mr. Woodward
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the procedure is for establishing a compensation claimant under the coal health claims schemes as being a priority case. 
§ Ms Hewitt
The Department and claimants' solicitors have agreed a priority points system which is set out in the Handling Agreement. Claimants with higher points will have greater priority.
There are predominantly two stages of prioritisation in respect of living former miners claiming compensation for respiratory disease:
- A. Claimants undergoing screening spirometry;
- B. Claimants proceeding through the medical assessment process, MAP, after lung function testing.
A. Screening Spirometry
Three factors are taken into account as follows:
- (1) age of claimant;
- (2) date of receipt of claim;
- (3) short life expectancy (as recorded by the GP).
Points are allocated for short life expectancy if IRISC, the Department's claims handlers, receive written confirmation from the claimant's GP that the claimant has a life expectancy of less than two years. The age of the claimant and any short life expectancy are considered to be more important factors than the date of claim and, accordingly, are weighted more heavily in the points system.1074W
B. Claimants proceeding through the medical assessment process, MAP, after lung function testing
Further points are awarded on the basis of a claimant's spirometry test result to a maximum of 150. Claimants who are unable, for medical reasons, to produce a spirometry result, will receive points in lieu of those that would otherwise have been awarded after spirometry testing.
With regard to deceased mineworkers, these claims will be processed by a paper-based assessment with priority being given to widows. Points are awarded according to the age of claim and any short life expectancy of the widow.
Presently, the Department is processing claims as set out in the Handling Agreement with the most elderly and ill being dealt with first. Widows are also being dealt with as a priority.
It should be noted that prioritisation does not override geographical variations in the availability of resources for live claims. All available resources will be used to the maximum even though claimants based in one area may be tested or examined ahead of someone with a higher priority score in another.