Alex Norris – 2020 Speech on Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review

Below is the text of the speech made by Alex Norris, the Labour MP for Nottingham North, on 9 July 2020.

I am grateful to the Minister for coming to make this statement today and for providing advance sight of it.

“Ignored”, “belittled”, “derided”, “gaslit”—those who have campaigned to highlight the harm caused by Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh have been called every name under the sun, but today they are one thing alone: proven right. I thank the noble Baroness Cumberlege for overseeing a piece of work that will make a huge difference to so many people, both today and in the future. It is hard to read, but it is vital that we do, and that we understand it and learn from it. It is really important to note that campaigners have universally said how well the review team treated them.

The review’s report thoroughly investigates what happened in respect of each of the three areas that I mentioned. Although, on the surface, they are separate, they have an awful lot in common, not least that they were all taken and used by women, and in two cases, pregnant women. This is clearly no coincidence and I was glad to see that the Minister referenced that the healthcare system must do better to protect women, because these cases reek of misogyny from top to bottom— ​and ageism and ableism as well. They also share the reaction of the healthcare system, which, according to the report, failed to monitor the use of these medicines and medical devices, then failed to identify and acknowledge that things had gone wrong, and then failed to work in a joined-up fashion to improve. The healthcare system failed to protect these people. As the review says, it has taken the act of having a review to shine a light on these systemic failings. I share with everybody else the love affair that we, as a nation, have with our health system, but we cannot be blind to its faults, and it is time that we act on them.

We would not be here without the campaigners. Without their tireless activism—for many decades in some cases—this would have been ignored. I want to take the opportunity to highlight a few of the groups that have done such tremendous work. That is a dangerous game, I know, and I can only apologise to those whom I do not have time to mention. Marie Lyon has led the way in bringing to attention the damage that hormone pregnancy tests, including Primodos tablets, can do. This report has finally proven her to have been right all along, stating that opportunities were missed to remove them from the market. She is right, too, that the Department for Work and Pensions has mugged campaigners over the condition insight report. I hope the Minister will commit to righting that wrong, too. Janet Williams and Emma Murphy, who founded the Independent Fetal Anti-Convulsant Trust—In-FACT—have fought so long to be believed and for action to be taken regarding sodium valproate, the risks associated with which far too many expectant mothers were unaware of. Kath Sansom, who founded Sling the Mesh, has provided so much support for so many people living in incredible pain because of pelvic mesh. This is a sombre day for those people, but I hope that they can take some satisfaction that their efforts have paid off in this way.

I would not often say this, but this is a day for parliamentarians, too. It was not clinicians or regulators who brought this to the surface. It was right hon. and hon. Members who listened to and believed campaigners and fought for them, too. Again, there are too many to name, but I will mention my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and my predecessor as shadow Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson).

There is not time for me to cover all the recommendations, but I want to highlight a few. Recommendation 1 calls for a fulsome apology. It was right that the Minister did that, and it will be greatly appreciated. Recommendation 3 of the report calls for a new independent redress agency for those harmed by medicines and medical devices, to create a new way of delivering redress in the future. It suggests that manufacturers and the state could share the costs. I would be interested in the Minister’s reflections on that. When does she think that could be implemented by?

Recommendation 4 suggests separate schemes for each intervention—HPTs, valproate and pelvic mesh—to meet the cost of providing additional care and support ​to all those who have experienced avoidable harm. That is the ethical responsibility of the state and manufacturers. Will the Minister today commit to that recommendation —to providing some redress for those who have suffered avoidable psychological, physical and neurodevelopmental harm? Will she commit, critically, to work on that with these people? For too long, they have had things done to them and they are owed the opportunity to shape their futures.

On recommendation 6, regarding the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, I said at every stage of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill that the timing for that Bill was challenging, although that was inevitable as we had to get on with it, because the report would have profound implications for the MHRA—and, boy, does it. I would like the Minister to commit to amendments in the other place to make sure that the MHRA regulatory regime is as strong as possible.

Finally, and absolutely critically, recommendation 9 calls for the immediate creation of a taskforce to implement the recommendations. Will the Minister commit to that? It was right for her to say that she needed time for reflection, but I would be keen to have a definition of how long she feels the Government will need to reflect.

This is a sombre moment. It is incredibly hard to read the report, but it is vital that we do so. Campaigners and those affected have got justice today; now they need action. We will not let the report gather dust on a shelf. We will be fighting every day to get the recommendations implemented and to meet the needs and the expectations of those who have fought for so long.