It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. As co-chair of the all-party group, I am delighted to speak in this debate; I thank Emma Hardy for securing it.
As MP for a Scottish constituency, I will focus on the situation in Scotland, where the devastating effects of mesh surgery were first brought to our attention by the campaign group Scottish Mesh Survivors, which is made up of women and their families whose lives have been ruined by the procedure. The group is led by my constituent, Elaine Holmes, who brought the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in May 2014. Through the group’s efforts, a request to suspend the surgery was announced by the then Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and an independent review group was established.
Scotland had an opportunity to lead the way, but, to my deepest regret, it has lost the initiative. The independent review group’s final report, which was published in March this year, has rightly been termed a whitewash. It refused to recommend a ban on transvaginal mesh implants; an entire chapter with key evidence highlighting the dangers of mesh was omitted; recommendations were weighted in favour of mesh, at the expense of safer non-mesh alternatives; and the review group’s chair was replaced late in the process. Patient representatives were excluded from meetings over 10 months and ultimately resigned from the review group, alongside a consultant physician, branding the report “not in our name”.
Disappointingly, the Scottish Government elected to accept the review group’s recommendations in full. As a result, Scottish Mesh Survivors has been forced to go back to the drawing board and is once again pursuing justice through the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.
One of the most common arguments against reclassification is that the evidence to support such a move is not there. I disagree. I stand shoulder to shoulder with women like Elaine and the numerous other mesh-injured women who have rightly proclaimed, “We are the evidence,”; with women like Lorna Farrell, another constituent who has suffered devastating injuries from the procedure; with women like Leslie McGlinchey, a mum of two who was not even 30 when she had the operation and now spends a huge amount of time in a wheelchair. Leslie frequently has to explain to her two little girls why mummy keeps falling over. She was told that a 20-minute operation would change her life. Well, they weren’t wrong. Women who have lost their careers, their husbands, their homes, their dignity and their lives; who are forced to spend day after day and night after night in agony; who are left with little option but to make use of wheelchairs and walking aids just to get by—they are the evidence.
It is increasingly clear that when women are fully informed of the potentially life-altering consequences of mesh surgery, they reject the procedure outright. Dr Wael Agur, the consultant physician who resigned from the independent review group, spoke at a recent petition hearing on the subject in the Scottish Parliament. He informed the meeting that, out of 22 women who had made use of his health board’s shared decision-making tool to assess whether mesh was right for them, only one indicated that she was in favour of the procedure, and it was later discovered that she had not read the leaflet properly.
The Scottish Conservatives, led on this issue by my colleague Jackson Carlaw MSP, have been at the forefront of the debate in Scotland since the scandal first erupted, working closely with Scottish Labour, which is led on the issue by Neil Findlay MSP. We have stood firmly behind the women whose lives have been devastated by mesh. I urge party colleagues south of the border to be alive to the issue, to act now while they have the opportunity, and—please—to suspend this procedure. If they are not convinced that there is enough evidence, they should suspend the procedure while they gather the evidence.
Mesh is rapidly becoming one of the great global health scandals. I implore all hon. Members to do what we can to protect women from this potentially devastating procedure and to ensure that our nation becomes an example to others of how to achieve justice for all those who have been broken by mesh.