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Health secretary issues apology to mesh implant surgery campaigners

Campaigners welcomed the move, saying 'we haven't always been listened to or believed.'

Health Secretary Shona Robison MSP in parliament C. diff apology uploaded November 25 2014

Health secretary Shona Robison has apologised to women who have campaigned against controversial mesh implant surgery.

Ms Robison said the women should not have had to resort to petitioning the Scottish Parliament in order for the issue to be brought to light.

She told Holyrood's Public Petitions Committee the Scottish Government accepted all of the recommendations of an interim report into the procedure, used to treat women suffering from prolapse and bladder problems.

The independent review of transvaginal mesh implants chaired by Dr Lesley Wilkie has called for better training to be put in place to ensure medical staff are more aware of the severe complications women can suffer after surgery, as well as for better research and data.

The report expressed "serious concerns that some women who had adverse events found they were not believed", adding this increased their distress and meant they had to wait longer for help.

A Scottish Government suspension on the use of mesh implants remains in place but MSPs were told that about 76 procedures have since taken place for women who were "fully appraised of the risks".

Elaine Holmes and Olive McIlroy, from the Scottish Mesh Survivors Hear Our Voice group, were joined by dozens of campaigners in the committee room to hear Ms Robison's response to the report.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: "One of the issues throughout this has been that the medical establishment has had a real willingness to believe those who said that this was a fantastic procedure and product, and a real unwillingness to believe those who said they had problems.

"Do you think someone, and I'm not necessarily saying it's you, do you think someone should apologise to those women who were not believed?"

Ms Robison said: "I am very happy to apologise to women for them having to basically have the campaign they've had to have to bring it to everybody's attention.

"It should never have taken women having to campaign in this way to shine a light on an issue and as I said in my opening remarks I want to thank them for all that they've done.

"We have moved a long way from what's a kind of paternalistic medical model where 'doctor knows best'. We have moved a long way from that but there's still a long way to go and that is about informed consent."

The apology was reinforced by Scotland's chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood, who told the committee: "These women have been injured by something that the medical profession did, albeit perhaps with the best intentions but not with the best information.

"I would reiterate the apology that the cabinet secretary has said to the women behind me here... but also to the other women who aren't here but who have been part of this campaign."

Speaking after the committee, Ms Holmes said the apology had been "most welcome".

"I think that it will mean a lot to the women because as you know we haven't always been listened to or believed. That was quite unexpected this morning and I would say the fact that it was reinforced by the chief medical officer was appreciated."

She called for the recommendations in the interim report to be strengthened "so that there is no wriggle room".

Campaigners also urged the medical establishment to follow suit with an apology, singling out the UK regulatory body for medical devices, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Ms Holmes added: "They can't just keep saying the benefits outweigh the risks, that's not on. We've received apologies now, they've got to step up to the mark."

A Scottish Government-led expert group, which includes members of the Mesh Survivors Group, will examine the interim report's recommendations on improved safeguards and how they could be implemented.

An MHRA spokesman said: "We welcome the publication of the interim report. The MHRA continues to sympathise greatly with women who have suffered complications after surgery.

"We are committed to helping to address the serious concerns that have been raised by some patients and have undertaken a great deal of work to continuously assess findings of studies undertaken by the clinical community over many years, as well as considering the feedback from all sources in that time.

"What we have seen, and continue to see, is that the greater proportion of the clinical community and patients support the use of these devices in the UK in the treatment of distressing conditions of incontinence and organ prolapse.

"We note that the interim report finds that for the majority of woman, serious complications do not occur and we will continue to work in collaboration with patients, the NHS, professional bodies and international partners to ensure emerging issues are detected and acted upon quickly."

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