Mesh campaigners have uncovered evidence that the General Medical Council (GMC) is telling surgeons operating at private healthcare providers that it cannot stop them from inserting mesh for stress urinary incontinence (SUI), despite a government-directed suspension  on its usage and warnings from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

 In a letter to a practitioner, the GMC said that while it expects privately practicing doctors to know about the ban, ‘it is not within our remit to issue statements about whether medical devices can or cannot be used in procedures’.

"The government’s ‘pause’ on mesh wasn’t comprehensive enough in the first place but add into the mix this vague guidance from the GMC and we have a classic NHS/Private split that exposes patients to unnecessary risk and allows private practitioners to exploit loopholes around mesh procedures."

Linda Millband
National Head of Medical Negligence at Thompsons Solicitors

Leading medical negligence law firm Thompsons Solicitors is acting for over 220 mesh-injured clients and say that the lack of clear guidance on mesh could lead to another Ian Paterson-style scandal.

Thompsons originally uncovered inconsistencies between the standards of governance applied at NHS hospitals and those in private hospitals and believe it led to hundreds of private patients continuing to receive guideline-breaching or inappropriate surgeries for four years following Paterson’s suspension from NHS practice.

Linda Millband, national head of medical negligence at Thompsons said: “The government’s ‘pause’ on mesh wasn’t comprehensive enough in the first place but add into the mix this vague guidance from the GMC and we have a classic NHS/Private split that exposes patients to unnecessary risk and allows private practitioners to exploit loopholes around mesh procedures.

“We acted for hundreds of Ian Paterson’s patients and during that time saw just how quick the private sector moved to distance itself from liability when things went wrong. Instead of putting their hands up to problems in their hospitals they sought to duck and dive which is why we launched the Patients Before Profits campaign, and it’s the reason we’re now advocating for a consistent and all-out suspension on the use of mesh products in UK operations – whether NHS or privately performed. Clear guidance from bodies responsible first and foremost for patient protection, such as the GMC, to reinforce the government’s recommendations for a pause on usage is an obvious first step.”

Sling the Mesh campaign founder Kath Sansom said: “We found that private surgeons can earn an extra £125,000 a year by performing mesh operations. With such a large financial incentive on the table we are very concerned that the GMC appears to be advising doctors to ‘carry on as you are’ despite clear warnings from the government. It’s a slap in the face to the 6,400 Sling the Mesh members who have seen first-hand the devastation that mesh operations cause – the patients the GMC exists to protect.

“The private healthcare sector is being given free rein to ignore lived/patient experience, an independent mesh review and now even government guidelines – it is not good enough. Many private health websites don’t mention the ban and in some cases even seem to suggest that mesh for SUI is still the best option despite what the government has said. There must be a clear directive as oppose to a wishy-washy lack of guidance in the highly lucrative private healthcare sector.”