The NHS “saw real pain and debilitation as women’s problems”, former prime minister Theresa May has said, as “the system didn’t listen” when patients came to harm.
Mrs May urged the Government to implement the full recommendations of a damning report which was published a year ago into three NHS scandals, which she put into motion when still in No 10.
Speaking in the Commons, Mrs May (Maidenhead) said she was concerned that ministers had not taken on board the conclusions over how the health service responded to issues with pelvic mesh – which has been linked to crippling, life-changing complications including chronic pain, infections and loss of sex life; the anti-epilepsy drug sodium valproate – which has been linked to physical malformations, autism and developmental delay in many children when it is taken by their mothers during pregnancy; and hormone pregnancy tests such as Primodos – which are thought to be associated with birth defects and miscarriages.
The review, chaired by Baroness Cumberlege, concluded that patients came to “avoidable harm” because the healthcare system failed to respond in a speedy and appropriate way.
Speaking about the background to the report, Mrs May told MPs: “What was clear to me at the time when these issues were raised with me is that over decades women had suffered, children suffered, families had suffered, and the impacts are still being felt today.
“What was also clear was that voices of patients, of women and others, have been raised and had consistently been ignored. There had been a sort of attitude ‘there, there, you’re a woman, you just have to put up with it’.”
And she said that those who had come to harm “want an apology, they want to know that somebody is going to make sure it doesn’t happen again to somebody else”.
But she added: “They come up against a brick wall, because the natural inclination is to defend the institution, rather than to actually address the issue that has been raised.”
The scathing inquiry into three NHS scandals, published in July last year, set out how patients were “dismissed” and “overlooked” when serious concerns were raised about some medical treatments.
The Government gave an interim response to the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review earlier this year, but Labour MP Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle), who is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) into mesh, said there had not been a full response.
In the Commons Mrs May said: “Those recommendations weren’t made lightly, they were made after listening to considerable evidence, hearing the voice of people who had suffered for years as a result of the use of these medicines or medical devices.”
And she said: “The system didn’t listen. It saw real pain and debilitation as women’s problems.”
Conservative MP Christian Wakeford (Bury South) said it was wrong that women’s health only seemed to be paid attention to when men spoke about it.
And his party colleague Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell), who co-chairs the APPG on mesh, told the Commons: “Women are killing themselves… we have got to move more quickly on this.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries said the Government’s full response to the review will be given to Parliament “before the end of this year”.
She detailed work under way to respond to recommendations, including on patient safety, but noted: “I’ll be honest, we are not going to accept the redress agency as recommendation three and also the taskforce.
“No government has ever asked someone to chair a review or undertake a review and then ask those people who conducted the review to implement the recommendations on behalf of the government.”