Mesh implants victims give 'heartbreaking' evidence to MSPs

Olive McIlroy and Elaine Holmes at the Scottish ParliamentImage source, Scottish Parliament
Image caption,
Olive McIlroy, centre, and Elaine Holmes, who have both received surgical mesh implants, giving their 'heartbreaking' evidence to the the Scottish Parliament

Women who suffered "life-changing side effects" after receiving surgical implants have given evidence to a committee of MSPs.

The Scottish Mesh Survivors campaign urged the Scottish government to suspend all such implant surgery pending a safety inquiry.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said he was hoping to discuss the matter with the medicines regulator.

He added that action was being taken to make GPs more aware of the issue.

About 1,500 women in Scotland receive transvaginal mesh implants every year, usually to treat a prolapsed bladder and relieve incontinence, often as a result of childbirth.

However, some have been left in constant pain after the implants hardened, and have been told they can never have sex again.

Convenor of the petitions committee David Stewart called on the Scottish government to act.

Mr Neil said he had written to the chairman of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seeking an "urgent meeting to discuss on-going concerns over the use of transvaginal mesh implants".

He added: "It is extremely upsetting to hear the accounts of women who have experienced unimaginable suffering as a result of having this procedure.

"I personally met with some of the women affected and I am clear that no-one else should have to go through the suffering they have experienced.

"It is imperative that we have expert opinion of the full implications of the use of mesh implants and I think it is of paramount importance that we can be in a position to reassure women all across Scotland that this issue is being treated with the severity it deserves."

Hundreds of claims are due before the Scottish courts within the next year, with cases already under way in the US and Canada, where the authorities have issued warnings to hospitals.

An expert group set up by the Scottish government to look at the issue met for the first time in February.

It is developing a revised information leaflet for use in the NHS in Scotland, which will be given to women in advance of undergoing the procedure.

However, Olive McIlroy from Scottish Mesh Survivors said she wanted ministers to go further.

She said: "In a nutshell, we are asking for mesh implant surgery to be suspended pending a safety inquiry, for reporting of adverse incidents to be mandatory for doctors - currently only 12 have reported cases to the MHRA despite more than 300 women undergoing repeated operations.

"[We] want an implant register to act as an early warning system as the current system is clearly not working.

"The women have been working on new consent forms which will contain all the complications. One of the big problems has been that the women were not given proper advice before they got the operations.

"They weren't told the life changing side effects and they were not offered alternatives. We have some of the world's top docs writing to Health Secretary Alex Neil asking him to stop mesh in our hospitals."

'Compelling petition'

Following the committee meeting, convener Mr Stewart said: "This is one of the most compelling petitions we have had before us.

"We heard moving and indeed heartbreaking evidence from the petitioners and the committee was united in its determination to address the issue.

"We will ask the Cabinet Secretary to give evidence at our next meeting as there must be action and there must be action now."