HUNDREDS of women unnecessarily suffered devastating health complications from mesh implants because key facts about the dangers of the procedure were withheld, it has been claimed. Former health secretary Alex Neil said that misleading briefings from officials meant action over the implants was not taken earlier.

The use of synthetic transvaginal tapes and meshes was suspended in 2014 by Neil after a number of women suffered painful and crippling complications. Neil said that if he had even known three months earlier, several hundred women in that period could have been spared the pain and trauma.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, he said civil servants "let me down badly", adding: "If I'd known just three months earlier, I would have suspended the procedure and I think that would probably have made a difference to a few hundred in that time alone."

The suspension came after Neil launched a review of the procedure in his role as health secretary. However, after leaving government, Neil blasted the findings of the probe that he set up as “totally unacceptable”.

Neil said that as a minister he had not been told “the whole truth” about the extent of the scandal, claiming he had been given unreliable information by his officials. Neil added that he was forced to conduct his own investigation because of unconvincing briefings. Neil said that research led him to subsequently suspend mesh implant procedures.

Crucially, Neil said he could have taken action to suspend the surgery earlier if he had been given the full facts. Neil made the dramatic intervention during a Holyrood debate.

He said: “I am going to be open, honest and very transparent. It took me longer to commission the independent inquiry than I might have taken. Why? It was because, to be quite frank, I was – very unusually – not convinced by the information on the matter with which I was provided by official advisers when I was health secretary.

“On no other matter did I have any reason for doubt, but I increasingly felt that I was not being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I ended up doing a lot of research into the subject myself.

"The more I researched, the more I became convinced that we had to do something: at the very least, we had to suspend the procedures until we were much more sure about their safety. I am glad that we did that.”

Campaigners against the use of mesh implants said they were "dismayed and disgusted" at the publication of the review into the procedure's risks, which they claimed had been "watered down".

Olive McIlroy and Elaine Holmes, who resigned from the review group set up to investigate the use of mesh implants, said they felt "utterly betrayed" by the publication.

The suspension Neil imposed is still formally in place and has never been lifted. However, figures published in December 2016 showed hundreds of operations have been performed since. Last night, Neil said: "It's ridiculous that after parliament supported a suspension that this is still happening. Those allowing this should be brought to book."

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Neil Findlay demanded to know whether the same officials were still in place advising ministers. Findlay also asked whether they were advising the current health secretary Shona Robison.

He said: “This is very serious revelation by a former minister. Here we have Alex Neil being honest enough to say that he believed he was being misled by civil servants and special advisers over the mesh scandal. We now need to know who these people are and whether or not they are still in position and advising Shona Robison on this very same issue.”

However, a Scottish Government spokesman defended the conduct of civil servants. The Scottish Government spokesman said: “Civil servants have consistently acted to the highest professional standards on this issue, providing information and advice to ministers on the basis of the evidence, accurately presenting all the options and facts around surgical mesh.”