Alex Neil urges halt to ‘painful’ mesh implants

THE controversial use of mesh implants is set to be halted in Scotland after health secretary Alex Neil announced a major investigation into the procedures.

Alex Neil has called for a cessation of mesh implants in Scottish hospitals. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The devices have been at the centre of worldwide anger over their painful side effects.

Campaigners yesterday welcomed the announcement by the health secretary, who had previously ruled out a ban, but said it was “too long” coming.

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The Scottish Government has written to all health boards urging them to suspend their use until further evidence from the Scottish review and an EU study becomes clear.

“I believe that is the right thing to do, and that we should base any future decisions on the evidence as presented by these two reports,” Mr Neil told Holyrood’s public petitions committee yesterday. “I was deeply troubled to hear how women who have been affected have suffered and they have my full sympathy and support, and we will do all we can to improve the situation.

“No-one should have to experience the level of suffering that some of these women have had.”

The use of polypropylene meshes to treat problems with the pelvic organs and incontinence has already prompted litigation around the world.

For many patients the implant is effective but a number of women have experienced abdominal and pelvic pain, urinary problemsand the need for further operations.

In the US, health watchdogs have classified the procedures as high risk.

Petitioner Olive McIlroy, 57, said she “didn’t expect” the announcement by Mr Neil.

She said: “It was the decision that we were hoping for, and we’re very glad that the minister made it, but he could have made it a year ago.”

Ms McIlroy is one of the two petitioners who brought the issue to the committee.

She added: “We welcome that there is going to be an independent review and there will be no manufacturers or anyone with a vested interest involved.

“It has been too long. Our alternative evidence has been there for all to see, but nobody has listened.”

About 1,500 women suffering from stress urinary incontinence and 350 with pelvic organ prolapse have synthetic mesh implant surgery in Scotland each year. Around 1 to 3 per cent of women having the procedure for stress urinary incontinence and 2 to 6 per cent who receive an implant for pelvic organ prolapse suffer complications.

“The percentage of complications is probably substantially under-estimated because of the under-reporting of adverse events,” Mr Neil said.

The health secretary has previously rejected calls for an outright ban on the use of implants and he admitted yesterday he did not have the authority to withdraw them.

But he warned: “I would find it highly unlikely and highly unacceptable if they (health boards) didn’t agree to this request.”

He added: “Where individual women and their clinicians agree on the need for a particular service, this will still be available.”

Lindsay Bruce from Thompsons Solicitors, which represents some of the women affected, said: “It shows that these ladies, many of whom are living in terrible pain due to mesh implants, are at last being listened to.

“We hope that the Scottish Government will make sure that in future any surgical implant like mesh is subject to the same kind of rigorous testing that new medicines go through before they’re given to the public.”

Labour’s health spokesman Neil Findlay said it was a “significant U-turn” by the health secretary.