Waiting times for women suffering the aftereffects of mesh surgery are improving, a Scottish Government official has said, despite being told that one patient experiencing “debilitating pain” had waited more than a year-and-a-half for a referral to a specialist clinic.
Tory MSP Tess White challenged women’s health minister Jenni Minto and senior official Greig Chalmers about the case of the woman who she said had been waiting 82 weeks for an urgent referral.
She raised the wait as MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee took evidence on the complex mesh surgical service, which was set up to help women left suffering debilitating side-effects after vaginal mesh surgery.
Ministers announced in July 2020 that the complex mesh removal surgical service was being set up to treat these patients, promising comprehensive assessments and vaginal mesh removal surgery for women who suffered complications after mesh was used as a treatment for urinary incontinence and prolapse.
But White said: “We’ve heard about one mesh-injured woman who has debilitating pain and she has been waiting for 82 weeks for an urgent referral.”
Labour’s Carol Mochan also pressed the minister on the length of time women had to wait for help from the specialist centre, which is based in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
She said information in answer to a parliamentary question showed that the median wait from being referred to having an appointment at the centre was 236 days – with the longest wait recorded being 448 days.
Mochan branded that “absolutely unacceptable”.
Mr Chalmers, the head of the chief medical officer’s policy division within the Scottish Government, said they were “aware” of the case White had raised.
He said the woman involved “has been contacted by their health board and they are following up as a matter of urgency and have arranged for a telephone appointment to take place with the consultant”.
Mr Chalmers continued: “Obviously, that period of time of waiting will be profoundly distressing and difficult for the individual involved, that would not be disputed by the government.”
He said the specialist mesh centre was “taking steps to reduce the waiting times”, adding that the service was now “closer to the point where the gap between referral for surgery at the centre and the surgery taking place is getting closer and closer to 12 weeks”.
While he said this was still a “significant wait” for patients, Mr Chalmers said there had been a “degree of improvement since the time the service was established”.
He added: “I think it is reasonable to say improvement has taken place in terms of waiting times but clearly there is still more to do and that is something the minister and we as her team will be seeking to do together with NSS (NHS National Services Scotland).”
Minto acknowledged long waits “must be incredibly difficult for the women waiting for the referral”, saying these left patients waiting to find out “the best course of action they can be offered in what is a very debilitating and pretty awful situation”.
She said officials had regular correspondence and meetings with health boards and NSS to “ensure everyone is across the pathways” used by women seeking help and “understands the need to ensure that this is done with the patient at the centre of it”.