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Feature Vaginal Mesh Implants

Vaginal mesh implants: putting the relations between UK doctors and industry in plain sight

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 10 October 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4164
  1. Jonathan Gornall, investigative journalist, Suffolk
  1. jgornall{at}

Despite government guidance, it remains difficult to unpick industry funding of clinicians in the UK—and specialists in vaginal mesh treatment are no exception. Jonathan Gornall reports on the NHS surgeons, professional bodies, royal colleges, and medical conferences that benefit from corporate funding and how this financial involvement is hidden from patients

The associations of individual surgeons and professional bodies with device manufacturers have done little to assuage the concerns of anti-mesh campaigners that sections of the medical profession are biased towards the technology. They argue that conflict of interest played a part in the rapid adoption of mesh for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

Research funding by industry is a fact of modern medical life and, despite evidence that it can create unconscious bias affecting results, not in itself evidence of any kind of corruption. But, in the absence of any UK or European equivalent to the US Physician Payments Sunshine Act,1 which puts all relations between doctors and industry in plain sight, these (often hidden) competing interests undermine public confidence in the healthcare system.

Kath Sansom, founder of the patient group Sling the Mesh, has diligently unearthed connections between UK doctors and companies through a series of freedom of information requests and has a list of surgeons and units that have accepted industry funding in one form or another. “A lot of these individuals were on the original [guidelines] panels looking into mesh implants,” she says. “A lot were flown out to America to fancy hotels to have their training in mesh implants and given research grants and sponsorship. This creates the disturbing impression that a surgeon’s judgment might be clouded and that the treatment patients are getting might not be based 100% on a conviction that this is the best treatment in …

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