Tom Gordon

HUNDREDS of women injured by mesh implants are being denied life-changing surgery to remove them by a Scottish medical establishment “conspiracy”, MSPs have heard.

Jackson Carlaw levelled the accusation at First Minister’s Questions, as he raised the case of a pioneering US surgeon who this week claimed his visit to Scotland to help the women had been sabotaged.

The Scottish Government had invited Missouri-based Dr Dionysios Veronikis to spend around six weeks in removing implants and training other surgeons.

He has pioneered the full-scale removal of vaginal mesh implants, which have caused agonising side-effects in around 600 Scottish patients.

However, after agreeing to come, Dr Veronikis last week called off his trip, blaming “delays and disrespectful behaviour” by doctors and officials.

He said: “After months of discussions I no longer believe officials... ever seriously tried to bring me to Scotland. I had not anticipated a resistance to training and teaching others my techniques.”

Mr Carlaw, the Scottish acting Tory leader, said there was a clear suspicion that the NHS establishment was trying to cover up its role in “the greatest medical scandal of modern times”.

He alleged there was “a co-ordinated attempt to block him by powerful people within the national health service and the medical hierarchy”.

Around 1500 women a year in Scotland used to receive to get implants treat pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence, often after childbirth.

However many were left in constant pain after the implants hardened.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman halted their use in 2018, and asked Dr Veronikis to help in June.

Close to tears, Mr Carlaw also raised the case of one of his Eastwood constituents, Lorna Farrell, had been forced to raise thousands of pounds to fly to the US in severe paid to have Dr Veronikis remove her mesh.

He said: “The clear suspicion of many people is that there is a professional and institutional campaign to frustrate Dr Veronikis’s involvement.

“It is the view of many people that establishment figures in the NHS are trying to protect their own backs.”

He excluded Ms Freeman from blame.

Mr Carlaw then quoted from Dr Wael Agur, the leading mesh expert in Scotland, who also suspected Dr Veronikis was being deterred from coming to Scotland by vested interests.

Dr Agur said: “I can confirm that surgeons here felt deeply threatened by Dr Veronikis’ offer to visit Scotland. No doubt there is a professional conspiracy against his visit.”

Mr Carlaw said Scottish surgeons had also suggested inviting another US surgeon, Howard Goldman, “one of the most prominent proponents of continuing use of mesh” to Scotland,

“If that is true, it is an outrage. Will the First Minister now personally intervene?” he asked.

Ms Sturgeon said she was not aware of evidence to back up a conspiracy claim.

She said: “I have already looked very closely at the matter. If there is the suspicion that Jackson Carlaw described, I will not stand here and second-guess it.

“If that is what people feel, it is a suspicion that requires to be addressed.

“However, I say genuinely to Jackson Carlaw that I am not aware of evidence that backs that up. If there is evidence, I certainly want to see it, and to be in a position to take action on it.”

She said she had “enormous sympathy” for the women affected by mesh side-effects and still wanted Dr Veronikis to come to Scotland, once General Medical Council requirements were met, notably a visit by Scottish clinicians to visit him in the States.

Although that visit had been delayed, it would take place next month, she said.

She said: “It would not be acceptable for anybody in the medical community here to seek to block Dr Veronikis.

“My understanding is that that is not the case; indeed, the chief medical officer personally invited Dr Veronikis to come to Scotland. It remains our wish that that will happen.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also raised the issue, and asked why Dr Veronikis had reported some Scottish women had been wrongly told their mesh had been fully removed when only part of it had been.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed it was a problem, saying: “Many women believe that, although they were told that they were to have full mesh removal, that was not undertaken. There are real issues that we need to get to the heart of; I am determined to do that and so is the Health Secretary.”

Mr Leonard said: “The world-leading, pioneering surgeon, who the Health Secretary invited to come here, now feels that the officials and senior surgeons in Scotland, working for our NHS accountable to your government, obstructed this course of action.

“And at the centre of all this are women left languishing in pain. So your government has lost the confidence of these mesh-injured women, your Health Secretary appears to have lost control of this situation.”