Mesh sufferers quit expert group over 'diluted' report

By Lucy Adams
Political correspondent, BBC Scotland

  • Published
Olive and Elaine
Image caption,
Olive McIlroy and Elaine Holmes said they could no longer trust the expert group on mesh implants

Two patient representatives have quit the independent review group looking at the safety of mesh implants.

Olive McIlroy and Elaine Holmes, who both suffered severe complications following mesh implant surgery, claimed the final report had been watered down.

It follows claims that an entire chapter has been removed from the report ahead of its publication.

Scotland's Health Secretary Shona Robison has said she will meet with the women to discuss their concerns.

Correspondence seen by the BBC shows that one expert member of the review group has written to its chairwoman to raise concerns about the report.

The letter states that an entire chapter, which highlighted concerns about the use of mesh in some procedures and contained tables displaying the risks of treatment, had been taken out.

Transvaginal mesh implants are medical devices used by surgeons to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence in women, conditions that can commonly occur after childbirth.

Over the past 20 years, more than 20,000 women in Scotland have had mesh or tape implants but some have suffered painful and debilitating complications.

There are more than 400 women currently taking legal action against Scottish health boards and manufacturers as a result of mesh implant surgery.

In 2014, campaigners gave evidence to the Holyrood Petitions Committee. Several of them were in wheelchairs, unable to walk because of surgical complications.

As a result Alex Neil, the Scottish government's health secretary at the time, wrote to health boards requesting a suspension in the use of mesh implants by the NHS in Scotland pending the review group's investigation into their safety.

An interim report was delivered in October 2015 and the final conclusions are expected to be published soon.

However, Ms McIlroy and Ms Holmes - who are part of the Scottish Mesh Survivors campaign - have resigned as patients' representatives on the group, saying the report had "changed beyond recognition from the interim report".

The women said they were saddened and appalled to discover that an entire chapter had been removed from the review group's final report.

They said the group and its final report now lacked integrity and independence.

Image caption,
Elaine Holmes suffers severe complications following mesh implant surgery

Their resignation letter to the chairwoman of the review group states: "The remit suggests 'consensus' - if patient-friendly, shared-decision tables are destroyed and replaced with clinician's directive counselling then obviously there will not be consensus.

"The ridiculous amount of tables now included in Chapter 5 only serves to confuse, not explain.

"There is no clinical interpretation to explain what the results actually mean to the lay person and if the findings are scientifically and or clinically significant."

Elaine Holmes, from East Renfrewshire, told BBC Scotland she had seen a draft of the final report and it was like "night and day" when compared to the previous one.

She said: "We looked at one chapter and it was completely biased.

"It would speak of the benefits of mesh but not the risks.

"For the non-mesh equivalent, which is called colposuspension, it would talk about the risk but not the benefits. It was just so biased it was unbelievable."

Ms Holmes said that despite contributing to the review group for almost three years her voice had been ignored.

Image caption,
Olive McIlroy said alarm bells were ringing about mesh implants

Olive McIlroy, from Renfrew, also said the new report was "unrecognisable" from the one 18 months ago.

She said: "To me it is that they just diluted the content in favour of mesh procedures.

"It seems to me unacceptable that they can risk even one patient suffering severe complications.

"It's not about the numbers, it's about the severity of the complications when things do go wrong."

Ms McIlroy added: "The colposuspension non-mesh procedures have been going on since the sixties.

"There is no litigation with them, there is no campaign of patients who have been severely adversely injured through the procedure."

She said that was not the case with mesh implants.

"Alarm bells are ringing all over the world," she said.

"It's not just us and it's not just here.

"We are not trying to sensationalise or make a point, we are just trying to get at the truth and they don't want the real truth to come out."

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who has been campaigning on the issue, said: "This is a truly astonishing turn of events.

"Elaine and Olive took part in the mesh review group in good faith and, despite their pain and disability, put their heart and soul into it to try and ensure that no more women would be horribly injured like they were."

Potential risks

He added: "The mesh scandal is a global scandal but in Scotland we had the chance to lead the world in protecting women from life-changing injuries, but instead of doing so the government has shown themselves to be complicit in one of the biggest medical cover-ups in the history of Scotland's NHS."

Scottish Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw said: "Nicola Sturgeon promised me in parliament only a few weeks ago that the sudden resignation of the previous chair of the review and her replacement with a health board official with a direct interest in mesh implants would have no impact on the independent conclusions reached.

"Now we find that the conclusions in the interim report appear to have been abandoned, even while mesh is reclassified across Europe as a "high risk procedure", in favour of what Elaine & Olive and thousands of Mesh survivors believe is a "whitewash"."

The latest resignations come after the chair of the review group stood down in December.

Public Health expert Dr Lesley Wilkie quit just months before the final report was due to go out.

In December, the BBC revealed that hundreds of mesh implant operations had been performed in Scotland despite ministers recommending their suspension.

Figures obtained by the BBC revealed that 404 women had received mesh and tape implants since the health secretary called for the suspension in June 2014.

The Scottish government said the position had been made clear.

Those boards still using mesh implants said they discussed all the potential risks with patients before surgery.

In a statement, the Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "I have been made aware of the resignations of two of the inquiry's members.

"I intend to meet with them so I can hear their concerns directly.

"The independent review continues its work to produce its final report and we expect them to publish it this Spring. I am grateful to all members for their expertise and considerable efforts over the years."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.