'Immediate' halt on use of mesh implants in Scotland

Image caption,
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced the move at Holyrood

Scotland's health boards have been ordered to "immediately" halt the use of vaginal mesh implants in surgery.

The controversial implants were listed as an underlying cause of death of a woman in August, sparking calls for an inquiry and an outright ban.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said NHS boards had been told to stop using mesh in cases of pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence.

This will continue until a new "restricted use protocol" is drawn up.

Mesh implants are used by surgeons to treat conditions which some women suffer after childbirth, with the synthetic substance used to repair damaged or weakened tissue. More than 100,000 women across the UK have been given them over the past 20 years.

The use of mesh in Scotland was suspended in all but "exceptional circumstances" in 2014 after it emerged some women had suffered painful side-effects - but the procedure has still been used hundreds of times since.

NHS England has also recently curbed the use of mesh on safety grounds, although it is still available as a treatment of last resort for some.

There were calls for a fresh review of protocols in Scotland after it was revealed that mesh was listed as an underlying cause of death in the case of Eileen Baxter, of Loanhead.

The 75-year-old died in hospital in Edinburgh in August. While multiple organ failure was cited as the primary cause on her death certificate, "sacrocolpopexy mesh repair" was named as an underlying factor.

This is actually a different procedure to the ones now effectively banned, but it still led to calls for action at Holyrood, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she would "give careful consideration" to a review of the use of mesh.

Earlier in August, MSPs on Holyrood's public petitions committee urged ministers to take stronger action to ban the use of mesh outright.

Image caption,
The mesh implants are used to ease incontinence and to support organs

Ms Freeman told MSPs on Wednesday that she wanted to be sure that all treatment options offered to patients were "as safe as possible".

She said: "I have today asked the chief medical officer to instruct health boards to immediately halt the use of trans-vaginal mesh altogether in cases of both pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence."

Ms Freeman added that once agreed, a new "restricted-use protocol" would ensure the procedure was only used in the most exceptional circumstances and subject to robust approval processes with informed consent from patients.

'Long time coming'

She said: "This halt in use will not affect other uses of mesh, for example in hernia repair, but these are areas we will continue to keep under review.

"The instruction to halt is, I believe, a proportionate measure, while a rigorous, high vigilance restricted-use protocol for a future practice is developed and put in place."

The move was broadly welcomed by opposition parties, with Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw telling Ms Freeman "well done" on this "decisive step".

He added: "The priority now has to be assuring women across Scotland that these measures can be enforced, and that no-one in future will experience the horrific stories we've seen heard as part of this process."

Labour's Neil Findlay, who had earlier raised the issue with Ms Sturgeon, said he "warmly welcomed" the move, but said campaigners had been calling for it for years.

He said: "This has been a long time coming for survivors of mesh implants, but for many it has come too late."

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