My Lords, the purpose of the Bill before us today is set out very clearly in the Long Title and few could disagree with the Government’s objectives. Indeed, the Bill had a relatively untroubled passage through the other place. However, I am slightly confused. At least part of the motivation for improving the law and regulation in this area was the subject of the review of the safety of medicines and medical devices by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege—a first-class if somewhat harrowing report. I am therefore unclear how the Government can be entirely confident that the Bill achieves what it purports to, as it was drafted before my noble friend’s report was published.
I would like to take this opportunity to make a few comments about my noble friend’s review, because I became concerned and, frankly, pretty horrified by its findings, particularly in relation to the use and misuse of surgical mesh. We have become accustomed over the last few months to applauding outside our homes the sterling work of front-line NHS staff during the pandemic at a time when large numbers of people became very ill and required significant interventions and care in a particularly challenging environment. We were right as a nation to acknowledge the work that they selflessly undertook on our behalf.
However, my noble friend’s review sets out a description of another side of our National Health Service that we need to be equally willing to acknowledge, although it is less palatable and some people may not be willing to admit it. Everybody makes mistakes, and large, nationally delivered services are no exception. So it is important to keep things in perspective, which is not easy when we are talking about the lives of people we know, or our loved ones.
One thing that sticks out to me in the review is the extraordinary lack of data, which has been mentioned before in this debate. I can tell your Lordships that 336,000 people have been infected with coronavirus in the UK this year and that 41,000 have died—precise and tragic statistics. But I cannot tell your Lordships how many women have had their lives ruined by the insertion of medical mesh, because the National Health Service does not have those figures. It does not know how many people had those operations or how many have suffered adverse effects, although the number is probably in the tens of thousands, and certainly more than those who have died of Covid.
Doesn’t know, or doesn’t care? It is very hard to tell from the review or from talking to those who have suffered. But the language of the review bears repeating and should go on the record. I am obviously not going to quote all 267 harrowing pages, but perhaps I can take a few quotes from page 4, which cites
“lack of awareness of who to complain to and how … the struggle to be heard … not being believed … dismissive and unhelpful attitudes on the part of some clinicians … a sense of abandonment … life-changing consequences … breakdown of family life … loss of jobs … loss of identity and self-worth”.
Lastly, “inaccurate or altered patient records” is a particularly shocking remark to me. I will not go on, noble Lords have heard enough. This is not a service that we should be applauding on our doorsteps. This is a service that in this area should be hanging its head in shame.
I have two questions for my noble friend. Can he assure the House that the Bill will go a long way—a very long way—to ensuring that something like this can never happen again? Can he explain exactly how the Bill will contribute to that, because it is far from clear to me from his remarks on opening this debate. It is far from clear to me because, as many noble Lords have pointed out, it is only a skeleton Bill or a framework Bill—I am not sure what the difference between the two is.
Secondly, can he explain what steps the Government are taking now, today, to make redress to those women who have been harmed and how exactly they are doing that? I have read what my noble friend’s review recommends but have not yet heard the Government’s response, and this Bill does not cover that most important point.
Lastly, if my noble friend Lady Cumberlege moves an amendment to set up a patient safety commissioner, I shall be delighted to support her in the Lobbies.