Women have mesh implant surgery despite ban call

Linda McLaughlin is one of the mesh implant patients raising awareness of procedure's drawbacks. Picture: Jane Barlow
Linda McLaughlin is one of the mesh implant patients raising awareness of procedure's drawbacks. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Half of all Scotland’s health boards are still carrying out controversial mesh implant surgery, months after the Scottish Government called for it to be stopped.

Dozens of procedures have been carried out across seven of Scotland’s 14 area health boards, which insist the women involved are made aware of risks.

But campaigners last night said they were “disgusted” that the procedures, carried out by surgeons to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence in women, are still available.

Former health minister Alex Neil told MSPs last June he was “deeply troubled” by the use of the medical devices and called on health boards in Scotland to stop using them pending a review. His move followed a number of harrowing examples of women suffering infections and bleeding following the surgery. Others have been left with ongoing abdominal pain and told they can no longer have sex.

Elaine Holmes of the Scottish Mesh Survivors campaign group said: “The surgeons that continue to use mesh, I’m disgusted with –there’s no other word for it.

“We know that prior to Alex Neil’s request, some surgeons had stopped using particular mesh devices or procedures due to safety concerns and it’s a bad day when health boards are disagreeing with each other. We can’t all agree that mesh is safe and where there’s any doubt there should be no question.”

She said the boards which have stopped using the procedures should be commended for “putting ­patient safety first”.


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A comprehensive system of “patient information and consent” is now in place to deal with treatment using tension-free vaginal mesh tape for incontinence issues, Mrs Holmes said. But, she warned, the same system is not in place for mesh devices dealing with prolapse. Mesh manufacturers have already pledged payouts of more than $1.5 billion (£0.9bn) in the US and the NHS is facing the prospect of negligence claims, with more than 400 cases in Scotland alone.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has confirmed it still uses the procedure, but could not provide a figure.

However, parliament heard last October that 29 procedures have been carried out since Mr Neil called for the suspension.

A spokeswoman said: “All patients who are assessed and require mesh procedures have the opportunity to fully discuss the risks and benefits with their consultant before they are listed for surgery.”

NHS Borders has carried out 18 surgery implants.

Sheena MacDonald, NHS Borders medical director, said: “As per the guidance from Scottish Government in June 2014, NHS Borders has facilitated discussions between women who were already on the waiting list and clinicians to review whether surgery with mesh implants were still appropriate.”

In Fife, 20 women have received mesh tape implants, but the health board says this was after “full counselling and the provision of informed consent”.

NHS Grampian is also continuing with procedures “within the guidelines of clinical trials,” but did not provide numbers, while Lothian said that fewer than five have been undertaken.

NHS Western Isles said no vaginal implant procedures have been carried out.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The former health secretary requested that all health boards suspend the use of mesh while an independent review is carried out.

“That will allow a thorough assessment of the evidence before next steps are agreed.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s astonishing to learn half of health boards are still offering this treatment.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jim Hume added: “There remains a great deal of ambiguity around this procedure which is why any decision to continue using this surgery must be evidence based.

“Health boards still using this procedure whilst investigations are ongoing should answer to their patients.”


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