Cross-party calls for Scottish Government to review mesh scandal

Written by Tom Freeman on 6 December 2017 in News

Former health secretary Alex Neil criticises ‘commercial interests’ in mesh review and joins calls for it to be revisited

Alex Neil -  credit Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Government is facing calls from MSPs of all parties to revisit the findings of its review into the use of mesh implants.

The use of synthetic transvaginal tapes and meshes was suspended in 2014 after some women suffered painful and crippling complications.

An independent review, which reported earlier this year, was branded a “whitewash” by campaigners after it was significantly altered before its final draft amid accusations of a conflict of interest.

Among its recommendations was that mesh implants must not be offered “routinely” to women with pelvic organ prolapse in Scotland, which the Scottish Government accepted.

SNP Alex Neil, who had commissioned the review as health secretary, labelled the final report “totally unacceptable”.

In a heated debate in the Scottish Parliament last night, Neil said: “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.”

Health secretary Shona Robison had commissioned a further review by health academic Alison Britton, but said that an outright ban was in the power of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Neil said the MHRA is “partly funded by the mesh manufacturers, so I do not see how it can be truly independent”.

He added: “We must ensure that any future independent review is genuinely independent. I look forward to Professor Britton’s report. We can never again have such processes tainted by suspicion such as surrounds the outcome of the review.”

Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay called for a new judge-led inquiry into the issue, with 400 patients now seeking damages over the implants.

“Scotland had the opportunity to lead the world on mesh – and we flunked it. The review was compromised from the outset. The SNP Government has let down mesh victims. 

“This is a tragic tale of corporate power and greed, institutional arrogance by the medical establishment and government ambivalence. 

“Only by refusing to give up have we got this far – and let me tell the Cabinet Secretary we aren’t going away.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said the findings of the review group should be opened up to public consultation.

“There may be aspects of this scandal that are reserved and other aspects that are devolved, but for pity’s sake that can no longer be a defence against the most determined and joint close working and co-operation,” he said.

“The hourglass has run. Huge legal compensation claims the world over are landing with health services; more than 800 claims are under way in the UK. That, too, is an issue of immense concern.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone also said the public should be allowed to respond to the review.

“We must learn from the mesh survivors and ensure that they realise that we hear their voice,” she said.

“We must leave no stone unturned in delivering justice for them and making sure that not one more life is affected by those implants.”

Robison said Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood had written to the MHRA to highlight moves in Australia to remove the treatment.

She added: “It is important, not just for the present independent review, but for future reviews on any issue, that there is full disclosure of interests and that they are registered.

“Professor Britton will be looking at that issue along with the many other issues that have been raised about the independent review process.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is due to issue updated guidance on use of mesh later this month.

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