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Show us the minutes: Health secretary under mounting pressure to prove there was no plan to bring back mesh

© Chris Austin / DCT MediaMesh victim Claire Daisley.
Mesh victim Claire Daisley.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is under mounting ­pressure to prove she did not ­mislead Parliament when she denied an expert group was ­planning the reintroduction of mesh in Scotland.

The minister last week bowed to pressure to bring a world-­leading American surgeon to Scotland to help mesh victims days after we revealed mesh victims were demanding her resignation.

However, while welcoming the move, victims described mounting concern around her fierce denial to MSPs that a working party meant to have been set up to help victims of mesh had not previously met to plan how the controversial implants would be used again.

Two weeks ago, she told Parliament that she had sanctioned no planning and insisted her so-called short-life working group had never met before.

However, the groups had the same members and the same chairman and critics have demanded Freeman – who claimed a Sunday Post story revealing the plans to reintroduce mesh was “false and without foundation” – is under mounting pressure to release the minutes of meetings to prove she did not mislead MSPs.

Chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood wrote to every health board on the day the use of mesh was halted in September saying it was only a temporary suspension. She later formed a group of “accountable officers” from each board to plan the reintroduction of mesh.

Last week, the Health Secretary again insisted she had “not requested that any planning take place to consider the lifting of the halt” but MSPs have asked to see the minutes from the group’s meeting in February.

They also asked to see ­minutes from the first meeting of the working group meant to have been launched to help victims.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

MSP Neil Findlay said: “In Parliament two weeks ago, the Health Secretary could not have been more emphatic. She was absolutely adamant when she told MSPs there had been no planning for the reintroduction of mesh and that the group she claimed to have set up to help patients in April had never met before.

“What we know now would ­suggest her statement begged more questions than they answered.

“The many, many women whose lives have been broken by mesh deserve honesty and transparency.

“There is a very simple, straightforward way for the Health Secretary to regain their trust and that is to publish the minutes of these meetings. They will show if planning was under way for the reintroduction of mesh and they will show if these two groups were, in fact, one and the same.”

Last Sunday, mesh victims called for her to apologise and resign. Days later the Health Secretary announced she would, after all, try to bring world-leading mesh removal expert Dr Dionysius Veronikis to Scotland.

She had previously touted her working group’s proposal that Scots medical staff should travel around the world on fact-finding trips to improve mesh removal techniques.

The decision has been met with “relief” by mesh-injured women who do not believe Scots surgeons are trained or skilled in the techniques required to fully and safely remove the polypropylene implants.

Olive McIlroy of Scottish Mesh Survivors said: “We’re delighted the Health Secretary is bringing a world-class surgeon here to help victims, but we still want to know exactly who sanctioned discussions in February to bring back mesh.

“If the Health Secretary did not know about it, we need to know why and what she intends doing about it.

“In 2014, Alex Neil was so determined to put a stop to women being injured by mesh, he was the first in the world to suspend use of implants.

“He was furious to discover later Glasgow and Lothian flouted his order and continued to implant a further 800 more women. Given that absolute lack of transparency, it is little wonder we take little of what we are told at face value.”

We revealed the same day – September 12 – the Health Secretary announced Scotland was fully suspending the use of mesh, Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood wrote to health board chiefs assuring them “the halt is not intended to be permanent”.

The letter stated mesh procedures would resume when UK medical watchdog NICE issued new guidance in April and better protection for patients was in place.

NICE did, claiming mesh could again be used once specific conditions and protocols were met.

Baroness Cumberlege, who is ­conducting a UK-wide review of mesh safety, immediately ruled “mesh would not be used for the foreseeable future”.

Although the Health Secretary insisted last week she that she had not asked for planning around the lifting of the suspension, in an answered question from MSP Jackson Carlaw in December, she confirmed “accountable officers” had been nominated to oversee “mesh procedures in the future”.

Last week, Ms Freeman said: “Whether or not mesh will ever be returned will be my decision as cabinet secretary.

“I have made it very clear that I have not instructed any work to plan for that return, and I have not had any work undertaken by the Scottish Government to plan for that return.”

Ms Freeman was asked to publish the minutes of the February 22 meeting, but told Parliament they “had not yet been approved”.

A government spokesman said they would be published “in the near future”.

Mesh Victim

Woman fears losing organs in race against time before doc jets in. 

A mum who will lose two organs in four weeks’ time because of mesh hopes the arrival of a world-leading American surgeon might come in time to save her from the awful life-changing operation.

Claire Daisley, 46, who faces losing both her bladder and bowel next month, said NHS surgeons plan to leave her mesh despite US surgeon Dionysios Vernonikis advising “her pain will not improve without full mesh removal”.

After revealing last week how she had heard nothing from Jeane Freeman despite appealing for help, Claire got a letter from Jeane Freeman last week saying she had highlighted her case with Greater Glasgow Health Board.

She now hopes Dr Veronikis might arrive in time to operate on her, adding: “If Dr Veronikis can save both or even one of my organs, I’m desperate to see him before I undergo irreversible surgery.

“I’ve written to Jeane Freeman and NHS Glasgow begging them to help me see Dr Veronikis. I’ve even offered to have Scottish surgeons watch him operate on me so they can see for themselves the difference between a full mesh removal and a partial.

“My medical notes clearly state I have had ‘full mesh removal’ but only 6.5 cms were taken from an implant that is more than four times that size.

“I pray Scottish surgeons put their egos aside and learn something that will help so many of our mesh injured women.

“This is an incredible opportunity for shared knowledge and a unique chance for Scotland to develop a world-class removal service.”

The US surgeon has performed thousands of removals and had patients from across the globe attending his practice in Missouri.

The surgeon, who has a battery of awards and credentials to his name “welcomed the approach by the Scottish government”.

He said: “My purpose and intent for coming to Scotland is first and foremost to offer what help and treatment I can to the women who have suffered complications, injury and pain.

“I will do all I can to help them regain the lives they have lost as a result of the use of polypropylene mesh implants.

“I have been contacted by many Scottish women who have concerns that they still have pain after partial removals and are not able to access full removal, and this is something I want to concentrate on and do all I can to ensure they have the best possible outcome.

“I have spent decades removing many different pelvic mesh implants, which can be very complex procedures, and it is not always within the scope of implanting surgeons.

“However, I hope that with the sharing of information and technical skills, we can all work together to improve removal surgical services for women everywhere.”