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NI Health Minister Swann apologises after damning review into mesh implants

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Baroness Julia Cumberlege

Baroness Julia Cumberlege

Health Minister Robin Swann

The Health Minister has apologised to women in Northern Ireland in the wake of a damning review into the care of tens of thousands of NHS patients.

The scathing review into surgical mesh, the anti-epileptic drug sodium valproate and the hormone pregnancy test Primodos concluded that thousands had come to "avoidable harm" and their concerns were "dismissed and overlooked".

But the review team said the issues indicated "system-wide problems" and that the issues uncovered were "unlikely to be unique to those three areas".

Additional "problems, mistakes and tragedies" may have occurred in the healthcare system, the authors said.

In Northern Ireland around 7,000 women have had vaginal mesh implants, and around 500 of them were involved in the Sling the Mesh campaign.

Baroness Julia Cumberlege, who chaired the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, described how women's lives had been turned "upside down" by surgical mesh, adding: "They told us about experiencing splintered glass inside them, razors inside them, in their bodies. And that gave them permanent, unremitting pain."

She added: "We travelled around the UK and met over 700 women and their families and I have to say, it made such a lasting impression on us.

"And some of those stories, I will certainly take to my grave.

"Their experiences were harrowing. We learnt about damaged families under immense strain, relationships that have been destroyed and careers broken. And as a result, financial ruin."

A number of mesh-injured women said their doctors, surgeons or GPs "ignored or dismissed" their concerns. Some clinicians' reactions ranged from "it's all in your head" to "these are women's issues" or "it's that time of life", the report states.

"For the women concerned this was tantamount to a complete denial of their concerns and being written off by a system that was supposed to care."

The review says women have also raised concerns about "missing or altered medical records". And many said they were told the treatment was a "new gold standard".

The treatment has been used in the pelvis for 20 years, but the review said that its "long-term risk profile" is still unknown.

Mr Swann said the report highlighted failures in the healthcare system, including the need to listen and understand patients' voices and concerns they had raised around certain treatments.

"While the focus of the report is on the healthcare system in England, it is recognised that many women from here took the time to submit their experience thereby highlighting similar failures within our service," he said.

Mr Swann added: "I must apologise to these women and others who were similarly affected, on behalf of the system, and I must offer my thanks to those women for taking the time to highlight these concerns to the review.

"While our healthcare system does treat the majority of patients safely, the message is that we can do better.

"We will now give this review report the full and careful consideration it deserves within the local and national context."

Belfast Telegraph