New women’s health minister Maree Todd told MSPs a Bill would be brought forward “soon” to allow for the money to be paid to women who have been severely affected by mesh implants.
MSPs also voted unanimously for a Labour amendment to Ms Todd’s motion pledging to prioritise action on women’s health issues, which called for an acknowledgement of the "life-changing damage to women as the result of transvaginal mesh surgery” and for parliament to support the demand of the Scottish Mesh Survivors group for funding to be made available “to cover the costs of mesh removal for women having to undergo private surgery."
More than 20,000 women in Scotland have had the mesh implants in the past 20 years but some 600 have suffered agonising, debilitating complications, in what has been described by politicians as “the greatest health scandal of our times”.
Nicola Sturgeon has previously issued a formal apology on behalf of the Scottish Government to the thousands of women across Scotland who suffered as a result of having mesh implants, while in September 2018 the then Health Secretary ordered a halt to use of transvaginal mesh and said it would not be reintroduced.
During the debate in Holyrood, Ms Todd said: “On the issue of mesh... many of us have been aware of the challenges around that and just how profoundly it has impacted on the women affected.
“The Scottish Government committed in its 2021 manifesto to pursue the outcomes sought by the Scottish Mesh Survivors. The use of transvaginal mesh was formally halted in September 2018 and we continue that halt. Substantial progress has been made to improve services for women with complications – the new mesh removal service will be subject to continual improvement, informed by consultation with the patients and I hope that will go some way to rebuilding the trust that has been shattered with the women involved.”
She added: “There will be a Bill introduced into parliament very soon which will allow reimbursement of women who have previously sought private mesh removal. Many of the asks these women have made of us we will be pursuing and I hope that will help to bring some closure for those most profoundly impacted.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, said that she welcomed Ms Todd’s words, but raised the issue of a tender by leading US mesh removal surgeon, Dr Dionysios Veronikis, to carry out surgery on the women in pain.
She said the tender was made “three months ago and we haven’t heard anything yet. The women are desperate for this to happen, can she advise whether there will be progress quickly?”
Ms Todd answered: “Yes. NHS Scotland has invited tenders to allow appropriately qualified surgeons to allow mesh removal in patients where they want it, but a process is in place and we need to leave that to take its course.”
The minister also said that the government would publish a women’s health plan within its first 100 days in office to “reduce avoidable inequalities”.
She said the plan, which has been in development for the last 18 months, will initially focus on some key priorities – improving abortion services, contraception and sexual health, menopause and menstrual health and women's heart health.
A survey, she revealed, had already been carried out to ensure women's voices were heard in the development of the plan.
“We want to give women a say in how we shape services for the future and it's absolutely crucial that we listen to women and that we trust women.”
The minister added that the plan would take a holistic, "life course" approach to health, and will emphasise "the importance of protecting and promoting health at key stages of life.”
Effective communication, Ms Todd said, would allow women to be able to make informed decisions about their own health and put an end to the "doctor knows best" approach.
Annie Wells, the Tory health spokeswoman, said an "urgent and renewed focus" on women's health was needed.
“The Scottish Conservatives have welcomed the Government's commitment to a women's health plan," she said. "We on these benches look forward to the opportunity to carefully scrutinise the government's plan following its publication.”
Scottish Labour MSP, Carol Mochan, argued that the SNP Government's record on women's health “isn't even close to acceptable” and also raised the issue of women affected by the vaginal mesh scandal.
She said: “An absolutely necessary step is to recognise today as an opportunity to right the wrongs suffered by Scotland's mesh survivors and give a guarantee that they will be able to access the compensation they deserve.
“If we can help this group of women, we can give hope to those who believe their own concerns have been forgotten, that things can change for the better.
“Today in this Parliament, let's use the powers for ones to redress the balance for a group of people who have no institutional power, just their own solidarity, compassion, and desire for justice.
“It is long past time we got this done and delivered the vital funding to these women so that they can get back to some sense of normality and not feel left behind by an establishment that seems distanced from their lives."
Scottish Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, added: "Women are more likely to have heart disease misdiagnosed, they're more likely to have their physical symptoms either dismissed entirely or put down to their mental health.
“Women need to be believed when they go for help. Being told that your physical pain is all in your mind will undoubtedly stop you from trying to access healthcare in the future.”