Government to review three NHS treatments amid claims patients' concerns were ignored

Jeremy Hunt announces review of vaginal mesh; hormone pregnancy test, Primodos; and anti-epileptic drug, sodium valproate

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, has announced a review of three controversial treatments

Patients are being promised a voice as Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announces reviews of three NHS treatments, including controversial vaginal mesh implants.

Last week, Hunt announced a probe into how the health system responds to reports from patients about side effects from treatments.

It comes after patient-led campaigns on three NHS treatments: the hormone pregnancy test, Primodos, which was used up until 1978; the anti-epileptic drug, sodium valproate; and the use of vaginal mesh.

It’s essential that voices aren’t just listened to, but properly heard, and that whenever appropriate, the system promptly learns lessons and makes changes

In the case of vaginal mesh implants, women were left ‘crippled’ by pain, MPs said, after plastic mesh implants, used to prevent prolapse after pregnancy, warped or deteriorated, cutting into their vagina walls.

Sodium valproate and Primodos, used in the 1960s and 1970s, have been linked to serious birth defects and learning difficulties.

Hunt said the response these groups of patients received from the NHS and its regulators was ‘not good enough’.

He announced that Baroness Julia Cumberlege would lead the review. She will consider:

  • Whether any further action is needed relating to the complaints around the treatments
  • The processes followed by the NHS and its regulators when patients report a problem
  • How to make sure communication between the different groups involved is good

Hunt said: “Over the years there have been significant concerns raised by individuals and campaign groups about the potentially-harmful effects of three products used by the NHS.

“The response they have received from those in positions of authority has not always been good enough.

“From Primodos to mesh and sodium valproate; patients and their families have had to spend too much time and energy campaigning for answers in a way that has added insult to injury for many.

“I want to see if we can establish a fairer and quicker way of resolving these concerns, both now and in the future.

There is no doubt that if we want to achieve the most from a forward-thinking and vibrant NHS, mechanisms have to be in place to ensure that unsafe devices or practices are quickly removed; and listening to patients is the first step in that process

Baroness Cumberlege, added: “I look forward to undertaking this tremendously-important review and in particular to working with patients to ensure that our health system learns from those it may have failed.

“It’s essential that voices aren’t just listened to, but properly heard, and that whenever appropriate, the system promptly learns lessons and makes changes.”

Hunt has pledged £1m to review every case involving vaginal mesh dating back to 2005. The money will help set up a database of cases to identify complications caused by the implants.

Christian Beadell, a senior solicitor at Fletchers Solicitors, a medical negligence law firms, said of the news: “This announcement recognised the dedicated campaigning from patient support groups, but also highlighted concerns that the regulatory body, the Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), had been slow to respond to their concerns.

“Of course, while ensuring patient safety is vital, it should not be at the expense of innovation and the advancement of medical practice, and it was interesting that a complete ban on vaginal mesh was considered to be inappropriate by the chief medical officer.

“With reviews into the Primodos and Sodium Valproate scandals also finally being accelerated, the push for answers is to be welcomed.

While ensuring patient safety is vital, it should not be at the expense of innovation and the advancement of medical practice

“However, words must be followed with actions, and it is worrying that no end date for completing these reviews was set out within the announcement.

“There is no doubt that if we want to achieve the most from a forward-thinking and vibrant NHS, mechanisms have to be in place to ensure that unsafe devices or practices are quickly removed; and listening to patients is the first step in that process.”

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