SNP MSP Alex Neil felt he “was not being told the whole truth” by civil servants when he was health secretary
Civil service advice on mesh implants was not “the whole truth” felt former health secretary Alex Neil
Alex Neil - David Anderson/Holyrood
Former health secretary Alex Neil has claimed he had to do his own research into mesh implants while a minister because he had not been told “the whole truth” about the issue by advisers.
During a Holyrood debate, Neil, who was health secretary between 2012 and 2014, also criticised “commercial interests” in the independent inquiry into the use of synthetic transvaginal tapes and meshes to treat stress incontinence.
There are 420 women in Scotland with pending civil action for damages after being left with painful and crippling complications after the procedure.
Neil told MSPs he had had to do his own research into the issue as a minister because he did not trust what he had received from his advisers.
“I was - very unusually - not convinced by the information on the matter with which I was provided by official advisers when I was health secretary,” he said.
“On no other matter did I have any reason for doubt, but I increasingly felt that I was not being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“I ended up doing a lot of research into the subject myself.
“The more I researched, the more I became convinced that we had to do something: at the very least, we had to suspend the procedures until we were much more sure about their safety. I am glad that we did that.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay asked Neil if the advisers in question were the same ones advising the current health secretary.
“I have no idea,” Neil replied. “For the record, I was absolutely clear when we appointed members of the independent review group that none of them should have a commercial interest in mesh. That did not happen; I am very critical of that.”
In response to the allegations, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Civil servants have consistently acted to the highest professional standards on this issue, providing information and advice to ministers on the basis of the evidence, accurately presenting all the options and facts around surgical mesh.”
The independent inquiry was launched in 2014 by Neil but it was published under his predecessor Shona Robison.
The report was labelled a “whitewash” by campaigners after its conclusions were altered in the final draft after the resignation of expert Dr Wael Agur.
MSPs of all parties have called on the Scottish Government to revisit its findings.
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