The health minister has apologised to hundreds of women, and their children and families, failed by healthcare professionals after expressing concerns about medical treatments.
Nadine Dorries was giving a statement in Parliament, on the Cumberlege review, published on Wednesday.
The review, which had heard from about 700 women, focused on vaginal mesh to treat incontinence, an oral pregnancy test and an epilepsy medicine.
Its report was “harrowing”, she said.
“I would like to make an apology to those people on behalf of the health and care sector for the time the system took to listen and respond to those women, their children and their families,” Ms Dorries said at the beginning of her statement.
However, she did not commit to any immediate action, saying the government would issue a full response as soon as possible.
Women said they had been ignored when telling doctors of severe pain after having vaginal mesh fitted.
Others said their children had been born with defects as a result of two different drugs:
- hormonal pregnancy test Primodos
- epilepsy medication sodium valproate
The review found their concerns had often been dismissed as “women’s problems”.
“One simple core theme that runs through all of this – two words – ‘listening’ and ‘humility’,” Ms Dorries said.
“So much frustration and anger from patients and families stems from what they see as an unwillingness to listen.
“We need to make listening a much stronger part of clinical practice.”
She said that women often “struggle to get their voices heard”, and reading the report had left her “shocked and incredibly angry and most of all determined to make the changes needed to protect women in the future”.
Dr Sue Black OBE, who had her mesh partially removed in 2018 after years of health problems, said the government needed to take immediate action.
“The one word that’s missing is ‘action’,” she said.
“Action needs to be taken now to set up centres to support and help women whose lives have been damaged by having mesh implanted in the first place, the issues caused by the mesh and then, when they’ve gone for help, they’ve been gaslighted and often told they are imagining the pain.”
Dr Black said after having it implanted, in 2005, she had a range of “strange” symptoms, including insatiable thirst, problems urinating and purple lumps on her body.
Years later, she discovered the mesh had torn through her urethra.
And doctors were unable to remove it completely because it had become embedded in her body.
“I’ll never be completely better,” she said.
“And I would say I am a best-case-scenario situation.”
Dr Black belongs to the Sling the Mesh campaign group on Facebook, which has 8,500 members.
In 2019 she was had to withdraw as a candidate in the London mayoral election, representing the Women’s Equality Party, because of her continuing health problems.
“I realised I didn’t have the energy for the campaign,” she said.
“I sat at home in tears all day after making the decision.”