High-tech dashboards signal big changes for auto suppliers

SAN FRANCISCO — Peer at the instrument panel on your new car and you may find sleek digital gauges and multicolored screens. But a glimpse behind the dashboard could reveal what U.S. auto supplier Visteon Corp found: a mess.

As automotive cockpits become crammed with ever more digital features such as navigation and entertainment systems, the electronics holding it all together have become a rat’s nest of components made by different parts makers.

Now the race is on to clean up the clutter.

Visteon, based near Detroit, is among a slew of suppliers aiming to make dashboard innards simpler, cheaper and lighter as the industry accelerates toward a so-called virtual cockpit — an all-digital dashboard that will help usher in the era of self-driving cars.

What’s at stake is a piece of the $37-billion cockpit electronics market, estimated by research firm IHS Market to nearly double to $62 billion by 2022. Accounting firm PwC estimates that electronics could account for up to 20 percent of a car’s value in the next two years, up from 13 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of suppliers for those components is likely to dwindle as automakers look to work with fewer companies capable of doing more, according to Mark Boyadjis, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

“The complexity of engineering ten different systems from ten different suppliers is no longer something an automaker wants to do,” Boyadjis said.

He estimates manufacturers eventually will work with two to three cockpit suppliers for each model, down from six to 10 today.

Digital makeover

One of Visteon’s solutions is a computer module dubbed “SmartCore.” This cockpit domain controller operates a vehicle’s instrument cluster, infotainment system and other features, all on the same tiny piece of silicon.

So far this year, the supplier has landed two big contracts for undisclosed sums. One, announced in April, is with China’s second-largest automaker, Dongfeng Motor Corp. The other is with Mercedes-Benz, Reuters has learned. Mercedes did not respond to requests for comment. Another unnamed European automaker plans to use the system in 2018, according to Visteon.

It’s a major turnaround since Visteon was spun off from Ford Motor Co. 17 years ago. Visteon filed for bankruptcy protection during the Great Recession in 2009 before emerging a year later. It also endured boardroom drama about its strategic direction in 2012, resulting in the departure of then-CEO Don Stebbins. Independent board members had pressured Stebbins to streamline the company.

Since then, Visteon decided to go all-in on cockpit electronics, having shed its remaining automotive climate and interiors businesses in 2016. The bet so far is paying off. The company secured $1.5 billion in new business in the first quarter, helped by growth in China. Visteon’s stock price is up more than 50 percent over the past year.

“You have to be changing and adapting fast. If not, you’re not going to keep up in this market,” said Tim Yerdon, Visteon’s head of global marketing. “It’s about reinventing yourself to stay ahead.”

Dashboard deals

Visteon’s makeover hints at the coming battle between suppliers fighting for real estate in the digital cockpit. The trend is already triggering acquisitions, as companies look to boost their offerings to automakers.

Visteon in 2014 bought Johnson Controls’ electronics business, which was also developing a domain controller. In March, Samsung completed its $8-billion purchase of infotainment company Harman. France’s Faurecia, a top seating and interiors supplier, last year purchased a 20 percent stake in Paris-based infotainment firm Parrot Automotive SAS in a deal that could make Faurecia the biggest shareholder by 2019.

Deal-making in the wider automotive sector has been at a fever pitch over the past two years fueled by the race to develop autonomous vehicle technology. Activity in the sector was worth $41 billion in 2016, according to PwC.

Analysts say German automakers are taking the lead in consolidating functions within the dashboard. Audi was the first to debut a virtual cockpit last year that combined its instrument cluster and infotainment system.

Cheaper, lighter smarter

Streamlined dashboards can lead to cost reductions for manufacturers, who can save as much as $175 per car with an integrated cockpit, according to Munich-based management consulting firm Roland Berger.

They can also help with fuel efficiency. That’s because vehicles are lighter when there are fewer behind-the-scenes computers, known as electronic control units (ECUs). Vehicles today contain 80 to 120 ECUs, numbers expected to fall sharply in coming years.

But perhaps the biggest motivation for fancy cockpits is sales. Drivers accustomed to the seamless technology of their smartphones are finding today’s dashboard offerings clunky and non-intuitive. A J.D. Power study released this month found the most complaints from new vehicle owners stemmed from audio, communications, entertainment and maps systems.

Better cockpits could prove crucial to attracting younger consumers, who are not showing the same enthusiasm for cars — or even driving — that their parents did. Research company Mintel found that 41 percent of millennial car buyers are interested in having the latest technology in their vehicles.

Disjointed dashboards “are one of the most noticeable gaps in user experience — what you see right in front of you,” said Andrew Hart of UK-based consultancy SBD Automotive.

On many car models, he said, audible warning systems to alert the driver to a potential collision are not in sync with the radio, meaning your favorite song could drown out the warning beep.

“That’s a crazy example of something when you don’t consolidate ECUs,” Hart said.

Industry watchers say this and other safe-driving features are among the systems ripe for integration. Additional targets include rear-seat entertainment systems and so-called heads-up displays that project data such as the car’s speed onto the windshield for easy viewing.

Back in Detroit, Visteon says it is in talks with carmakers in China and Europe for its domain controller, a technology it hopes can give it an edge over rivals such as Delphi, Robert Bosch, Continental and Denso .

While it isn’t clear who will prevail, electronics suppliers are seeing their products take on new importance as vehicles become more connected.

Five years ago, the dashboard was “a plastic molded cockpit that we stuffed electronics into,” said Yerdon, Visteon’s marketing chief. “Now it’s more about an electronic architecture that’s experience-driven, and we mold plastic around it.”

Automotive News contributed to this report.

Auto industry groups urge caution in changing NAFTA origin rules

WASHINGTON — Auto industry trade groups said on Wednesday that tightening the rules of origin in the North American Free Trade Agreement could be disruptive and hurt the competitiveness of U.S., Mexican and Canadian auto plants.

Their testimony at a public hearing ahead of NAFTA renegotiations, expected to start Aug. 17, contrasted sharply with frequent comments from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that the trade pact’s local content rules are an area that needs strengthening to avoid being used as a “back door” for Chinese auto parts.

Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, said the current 62.5 percent local content requirement in NAFTA was working just fine and “strikes the right balance” for encouraging local manufacturing investment and keeping the industry’s costs competitive.

Blunt, whose group represents General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler urged a “very cautions and careful” approach for any origin rule changes and discussed the affects of stricter enforcement.

“It could make us less competitive as compared to our international peers and affect our ability to export,” Blunt said. “It could deny us access to supply chains which would drive up costs and could affect sales and ultimately employment within the industry.”

Ross has said that NAFTA’s rules of origin need tightening to avoid benefiting producers from outside the region from tariff-free access to the U.S. market. He also has noted that vehicles now have many new electronic components that were not contemplated when the pact was negotiated in the early 1990s.

But Blunt disputed that the origin rules were allowing China to benefit from NAFTA in a major way, arguing that Chinese components make up less than six percent of the value of North American-built vehicles.

His comments were seconded by representatives of other groups, including the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, representing parts makers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Detroit and foreign automakers building vehicles in the United States, and the Association Global Automakers, a group that represents international automakers that sell into the U.S. market.

Leigh Merino, senior director of regulatory affairs for MEMA, said auto components and subsystems in particular depend on complex “ecosystem” of diverse parts suppliers and small changes to this “can be extremely disruptive.”

Nonetheless, the trade groups said that they were not opposed to examining ways to improve the rules.

The NAFTA hearings, which allow industry groups and companies to express views on the U.S. negotiating objectives for the talks are expected to conclude on Thursday.

Bank of England takes action over bad loans

Mark Carney

The Bank of England has forced banks to find a further £11.4bn in the next 18 months to beef up their finances against the risk of bad loans.

Banks will have to set aside £5.7bn in the next six months in case future economic shocks mean some borrowers cannot keep up their repayments.

A further £5.7bn will have to be found by the end of next year.

The Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC) suggested lenders had become complacent about their lending.

“Lenders may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of loans in benign conditions,” the FPC said.

The committee has also taken action to stop banks getting around key tests which are designed to stop them lending too much to consumers.

The FPC’s assessment is that the risks facing the financial system remain at a normal level for now.

But there are “pockets of risk that warrant vigilance” it said, in the Bank’s .

Lenders, the committee said, are relying too heavily on borrowers keeping up payments as well as they have recently, and banks and other lenders have started lending to people with weaker credit records.

The FPC highlighted rapidly growing consumer borrowing via credit cards, personal loans and, notably, car finance.

Collectively known as consumer credit, these forms of borrowing have grown by more than 10% in the past year, far outstripping the growth of incomes.

While the amount of borrowing for consumer credit is just a seventh of the size of mortgage lending, the amount lenders have to write off because it is not likely to be repaid is ten times greater than for defaulting mortgage borrowers.

In a news conference, the Bank Governor Mark Carney explained that the Bank was worried about those households who are heavily in debt.

But their borrowing, he said, had not in fact increased the threat to the general resilience of banks.

“We are reinforcing some of the protection [for banks],” he explained, by telling banks to add to their financial cushions.

He declined to blame people for borrowing more, and said that most personal borrowing decisions were reasonable.

However, he advised: “Borrowers should consider adverse scenarios as well as positive scenarios.”

The Bank is bringing forward by six months a so-called “stress test” in respect of consumer credit, whereby lenders have to test their ability to withstand losses on loans that go bad and are not repaid.

It is also blocking lenders from getting around affordability tests for lenders designed to stop them over-lending on mortgages.

Banks and building societies are currently allowed to lend a maximum of 15% of their mortgages to homebuyers who take especially large loans of more than four and a half times their income.

The lenders have to scrutinise the borrowers to ensure they could still afford their repayments if the Bank of England raised its official base rate by three percentage points.

But some lenders have been assuming they would not in fact pass on all of that increase in higher standard variable rates, thus allowing them to lend slightly more.

Mr Carney said these lenders were not “gaming the system” but instead appeared to have forgotten some of the lessons of the recent past.

Despite these concerns, Mr Carney stressed that the UK financial system was far stronger than at the time of the great banking crash in 2008-09.

He said that since then, UK households had reduced their levels of debt and that it was only in the past 18 months or so that personal lending and borrowing had accelerated again.

“The resilience of the UK financial system has strengthened since the financial crisis,” Mr Carney said.

Google hit with record EU fine over Shopping service

Google Shopping

Google has been fined 2.42bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) by the European Commission after it ruled the company had abused its power by promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of search results.

The amount is the regulator’s largest penalty to date against a company .

The ruling also orders Google to end its anti-competitive practices within 90 days or face a further penalty.

The US firm said it may appeal.

However, if it fails to change the way it operates the Shopping service within the three-month deadline, it could be forced to make payments of 5% of its parent company Alphabet’s average daily worldwide earnings.

Based on the company’s , that amounts to about $14m a day.

The commission said it was leaving it to Google to determine what alterations should be made to its Shopping service rather than specifying a remedy.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” declared Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner.

“It has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.”

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WATCH: Margrethe Vestager explains how consumers have been harmed by Google’s Shopping service

Ms Vestager added that the decision could now set a precedent that determines how she handles related complaints about the prominence Google gives to its own maps, flight price results and local business listings within its search tools.

Google had that Amazon and eBay have more influence over the public’s spending habits and has again said it does not accept the claims made against it.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily,” a spokesman said in response to the ruling.

“And advertisers want to promote those same products. That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both.

“We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”

Google Shopping displays relevant products’ images and prices alongside the names of shops they are available from and review scores, if available.

The details are labelled as being “sponsored”, reflecting the fact that, unlike normal search results, they only include items that sellers have paid to appear.

On smartphones, the facility typically dominates “above-the-fold” content, meaning users might not see any traditional links unless they scroll down.

Google also benefits from the fact the Shopping service adverts are more visual than its text-based ads.

suggested Shopping accounts for 74% of all retail-related ads clicked on within Google Search results. However, the BBC understands Google’s own data indicates the true figure is smaller.

The European Commission has been investigating Google Shopping since late 2010.

The probe was spurred on by complaints from Microsoft, among others.

The rival tech giant has opted not to comment on the ruling, after the two struck a deal last year to try to .

However, one of the other original complainants – the British price comparison service Foundem – welcomed the announcement.

“Although the record-breaking 2.42bn euro fine is likely to dominate the headlines, the prohibition of Google’s immensely harmful search manipulation practices is far more important,” said its chief executive Shivaun Raff.

“For well over a decade, Google’s search engine has played a decisive role in determining what most of us read, use and purchase online. Left unchecked, there are few limits to this gatekeeper power.”

This is a big moment in a clash between the EU and the US’s tech giants, which has been going on for more than a decade.

The commission believes it has struck a blow for consumers and for little firms at a time when online advertising – particularly on mobile phones – is dominated by Google and Facebook.

Google believes the regulator has a weak case and has failed to provide evidence that either consumers or rivals have been harmed.

In essence, it sees this as a political move rather than one based on competition law. You can be pretty confident that the Trump administration will share that view.

There’s mounting anxiety in European capitals about something called Gafa – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the four American giants that play such a huge role in all of our lives.

That means we can expect further action to try to limit their powers, with the potential for growing political tension between Brussels and Washington.

Although the penalty is record-sized, it could have been bigger.

The commission has the power to fine Alphabet up to 10% of its annual revenue, which was more than $90bn (£70.8bn) .

Alphabet can afford the fine – it currently has more than $172bn of assets.

But one expert said the company would be more concerned about the impact on its future operations.

“If it has to change the appearance of it results and rankings, that’s going to have an impact on how it can monetise search,” said Chris Green, from the tech consultancy Lewis.

“Right now, the way that Google prioritises some of its retail and commercial services generates quite a lot of ad income.

“When you consider the sheer number of search queries that Google handles on a daily basis, that’s a lot of ad inventory going in front of a lot of eyeballs.

“Dent that by even a few percentage points, and there’s quite a big financial drop.”

At her press conference, Margrethe Vestager insisted her action was “based on facts” rather than any prejudice the European Commission might have against US tech companies.

“We have heard allegations of being biased against US companies,” she said.

“I have been going through the statistics… I can find no facts to support any kind of bias.”

But this is far from the first time the European Commission has penalised US tech giants for what it views to be bad behaviour.

Others to have been targeted include:

  • Microsoft (2008) – the Windows-developer was fined €899m for failing to comply with earlier punishments, imposed over its refusal to share key code with its rivals and the bundling of its Explorer browser with its operating system. Five years later, it was told to pay a further €561m for failing to comply with a pledge to provide users a choice screen of browsers
  • Intel (2009) – the chip-maker was ordered to pay €1.06bn for skewing the market by offering discounts conditional on computer-makers avoiding products from its rivals. Intel challenged the fine, and a final court ruling in the matter is expected in 2018
  • Qualcomm (2015) – the chip-maker was accused of illegally paying a customer to use its technology and selling its chipsets below cost to push a rival out of the market. If confirmed, it faces a fine that could top €2bn, but the case has yet to be resolved
  • Apple (2016) – Ireland was ruled to have given up to €13bn of illegal tax benefits to the iPhone-maker since 1991, and was ordered to recover the funds plus interest from the company. However, Dublin missed the deadline it was given to do so and has said it will appeal
  • Facebook (2017) – the social network agreed to pay a €110m fine for saying it could not match user accounts on its main service to those of WhatsApp when it took over the instant messaging platform, and then doing just that two years later

The commission is also investigating Amazon over concerns that a tax deal struck with Luxembourg gave it an unfair advantage.

The European Commission continues to pursue two separate cases against Google.

The first involves allegations that the technology company has made it difficult for preinstalled on Android devices.

The second covers claims from appearing on third-party websites that had installed a Google-powered search box.

Ice cream rush helps supermarket sales soar in June

Woman eating ice cream

June’s soaring temperatures boosted supermarket sales by record levels and sent overheated Britons in search of ice cream.

Research firm Nielsen said major retailers enjoyed the largest annual revenue rise for four years, up 4% compared to June last year.

Sales of hand-held ice creams rose by 24% as the UK basked in its hottest June since 1976.

More people also dined al fresco, with demand for quiche up 11%.

Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight, said: “The early summer weather gave supermarkets a much-needed shot in the arm.”

A separate report from research firm Kantar Worldpanel pointed to inflation as the driver behind the fast growth in grocery sales, in addition to the warmer weather.

suggested an even sharper rise in sales, up 5%, comparing the 12 weeks to mid-June with the same period in 2016.

Grocery prices rose 3.2% over that period, said Fraser McKevitt, Kantar Worldpanel’s head of retail and consumer insight, which amounted to an extra £133 on the average household’s annual shopping bill.

“Butter and fish fans will be feeling price increases most keenly; butter is almost 20% more expensive than last year while farmed salmon supply issues have been among the factors contributing to a 14% price rise across fresh and tinned fish,” said Mr McKevitt.

Click to see content: Nielsen_supermarket_share

All four of the UK’s biggest supermarkets reported higher sales over the three months to mid-June compared to the same period last year – the first time this has happened for about four years. Nielsen’s figures suggested Tesco was the biggest riser with trade up 4.2%, while Kantar’s figures put it at a more modest 3.5% with Morrisons growing more rapidly at 3.7%.

Outside the big four supermarket chains, sales growth was also boosted by the hot weather. According to Nielsen, Iceland’s sales for the three months rose by 9%.

At the other end of the market, Nielsen said both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer also attracted more customers, with revenues up by 4.5% and 6.2% respectively.

Mr Watkins said: “Looking ahead, a continuation in both the warm and dry weather and creeping inflation means growth should be maintained at around 3% for at least the next few weeks.”

More than 1,700 patients at risk over NHS mail blunder


At least 1,700 patients may have been harmed by an administrative blunder that saw thousands of patient records in NHS England put into storage.

Officials said the number was likely to rise, as a third of the 700,000 cases identified had yet to be reviewed.

Cancer test results, child protection notes and medication advice were among the notes that went missing.

about the handling of the incident.

Its review of the issue looked at the role of the government and the company responsible for the mix-up, which is part-owned by the Department of Health.

The company, NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), was employed in the East Midlands, South West and north-west London to redirect mail for the health service.

It was meant to pass on documents that had either been incorrectly addressed or needed re-routing because the patient had moved to a new GP surgery.

But between 2011 and 2016 a backlog of 709,000 pieces of correspondence built up.

The issue came to light in February after the Guardian newspaper exposed what had happened.

The NAO review of what happened found:

  • The company had become aware of a risk to patients in January 2014, but senior managers had not developed a plan to deal with it or tell the government or NHS England for another two years
  • A label with “clinical notes” on it had been removed from the room where the files were stored. A manager had apparently said: “You don’t want to advertise what’s in that room”
  • In August 2015, a member of staff raised concerns the records were being destroyed
  • NHS SBS finally told NHS England and Department of Health of the problem in March 2016, but neither Parliament nor the public were told
  • The episode suggested there had been a conflict of interest between the health secretary’s responsibility for the health service as a whole and his department’s position as a shareholder in NHS SBS
  • NHS England said the company had been “obstructive and unhelpful” when it had tried to investigate issue

The report by the NAO found the cost of dealing with the incident was likely to be in the region of at least £6.6m.

A spokeswoman for NHS SBS acknowledged there had been “failings”.

She added: “We regret this situation and have co-operated fully with the NAO in its investigation.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was committed to being transparent over the handling of the issue and was working to make sure this did not happen again.

It pointed out as yet there had still been no proof of harm to patients.

Individual investigations – overseen by NHS England – are taking place into the 1,788 cases of potential harm identified.

These are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association, said the “disastrous” situation should never happen again.

“The handling and transfer of clinical correspondence is a crucial part of how general practice operates, and it’s essential that important information reaches GPs as soon as possible so that they can provide the best possible care to their patients.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the whole episode was a “scandal” that ministers needed to answer for.

“This is a staggering catalogue of mistakes on this government’s watch,” he added.

Magnets used to control flickering eyes

A false colour rendered CT scan after the first implantation in one eye

Doctors have successfully implanted magnets behind a patient’s eyes to treat a condition which causes eyes to flicker or wobble involuntarily.

Nystagmus, or ‘dancing eyes’ affects 1 in 1,000 people and no medical treatment is available.

The patient had two tiny magnets implanted into each eye to help overcome the eyes’ flickering.

Experts claim it paves the way for greater use of magnetic implants to control the movement of body parts.

The magnets interacted with one another to impede involuntary eye movement and improve the patient’s vision.

The study, led by and the , is understood to be the first time an oculomotor prosthesis – an implant that controls eye movement – has been used successfully.

“Nystagmus has numerous causes with different origins in the central nervous system, which pose a challenge for developing a pharmaceutical treatment, so we chose to focus on the eye muscles themselves,” said lead author Dr Parashkev Nachev, of the UCL’s Institute of Neurology.

“But until now, mechanical approaches have been elusive because of the need to stop the involuntary eye movements without preventing the natural, intentional movements of the shifting gaze.”

Nystagmus is continuous uncontrolled to-and-fro movement of the eyes.

The movements may be in any direction so the eyes will look like they are moving from side to side or up and down or even in circles.

It is a sign of a problem with the visual system or the pathways that connect the eyes to the parts of the brain that analyse vision.

In many cases the cause of the nystagmus will not be known. The disorder cannot be cured, but some underlying conditions may be treatable.

The patient who underwent the procedure developed nystagmus in his late ’40s, due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The condition caused great impact on his life, including losing his job. His difficulties prompted the research team to build the successful prosthesis.

“Fortunately the force used for voluntary eye movements is greater than the force causing the flickering eye movements, so we only needed quite small magnets, minimising the risk of immobilising the eye,” said Professor Quentin Pankhurst, of UCL, who led the design of the prosthesis.

Two magnets were implanted in each eye, one attached to the bone at the bottom of the eye socket and another sutured to one of the extraocular muscles.

The procedure was led by Professor Geoff Rose and Mr David Verity at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, in two separate sessions.

The patient recovered quickly and reported substantial improvements in his vision. In addition – more than four years later – there has been no reported negative impact on the functional movement of the eye. He has returned to paid employment and finds daily activities such as reading and watching television easier.

The researchers have stressed that further research still needs to be done to discover which patients would benefit most from the oculomotor prosthesis.

They warn that the magnetic implants will not be suitable for everyone with nystagmus, such as those who need regular MRI scans.

Nystagmus is the most common form of visual impairment among children.

The case study is published in Ophthalmology.

Women left ‘scarred’ after vaginal mesh implants


A group of women in Northern Ireland have said they have been left physically and mentally scarred after having vaginal mesh implants.

One of them has been left in such pain she said she had considered taking her own life.

The women are now starting legal action for claims of medical negligence.

The mesh or tape implants are used by surgeons in an operation to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence, which can be common after childbirth.

The Department of Health said it is “recognised that women who have undergone these procedures may experience complications, as is the case with any surgical procedures, and these symptoms can be distressing”.

“It is essential that clinicians that conduct these operations carry out audits to ensure they are performing to the highest possible standards.”

The UK’s medical products regulator said the current evidence was that the devices are “acceptably safe” if used “properly and as intended.”

Mary Morris was 50 years old when she had the operation in 2013. Far from curing her incontinence, she said, it left her in excruciating pain.

“Whenever I was walking I could feel the mesh coming out of my inner thigh. It was like a saw cutting into me, hot and burning. My actual skin had ripped open and was bleeding. That was it eroding.”

The mother of three has now had the implant partially removed but explained that she is still suffering.

“I just got that low at times that I didn’t want to live. I am a very strong person but it has ruined my family life. I have a young son who is autistic and I could not look after him. I have to get my daughter to do everything for me. I am in severe pain – it’s horrendous.”

The mesh is made of polypropolene which is a type of plastic. It has been used for a long time in operations – surgeons routinely use it in hernia repair, for example.

Its use as a vaginal implant for the treatment of incontinence is common in Northern Ireland.

Figures seen by the BBC show that in four out of the five health trusts it was used in more than 4,300 such operations from 2006 to 2016.

The procedure uses the mesh as a type of sling or hammock to hold up the internal organs and prevent leakage of urine.

Incontinence after childbirth is a big problem.

Judging how many women are affected is difficult, however, a medical study carried out in 1998 showed that the condition was sufficiently severe to require sanitary protection in over 12% of women aged 35 to 74 in Northern Ireland.

Dr Robin Ashe is a retired consultant gynaecologist at the Antrim Area Hospital. He said that the vaginal mesh and tape operations are a “safe and effective procedure” – as long as they are done in the correct circumstances and by people who are trained in the use of the device.

“Urinary incontinence is very common and is very debilitating and people are living miserable lives. This is an operation which turns around a life. It is effective in over 80% of cases.”

“But I do acknowledge that these very unfortunate patients have developed long term problems, or seemingly long term problems and that is distressing.”

That some women experience painful and long-lasting complications after this procedure is a story that is replicated across the UK.

The local health trusts, the board and the Public Health Agency turned down BBC NI’s offer to be interviewed on the issue.

The Scottish government set up an independent review group looking at the safety of mesh implants in 2014 after women, several of whom were in wheelchairs, gave evidence to the Holyrood Petitions Committee.

An interim report was delivered in October 2015 and . More than 20,000 women in Scotland have had the operation over the past 20 years.

Data obtained by BBC One’s Victoria Derbyshire programme shows that between April 2007 and March 2015, more than 92,000 women had vaginal mesh and other types of tape implants. About one in 11 has experienced problems, the figures suggest.

Figures obtained by BBC News NI from the body that manages negligence and other claims against the NHS in England, reveal that in a group action of 31 cases which relate to the use of mesh without full consent four have been settled with damages paid of £327,798.

Six have received interim payments of £30,000 but have not yet settled.

In seven other cases of medical negligence, damages have been paid of £204,000 while 18 claims have been closed without the payment of damages and 21 claims remain open.

Middle-aged workers ‘spend more time sitting than pensioners’

People sitting in office

Most middle-aged office workers now spend more time sitting down than pensioners, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found 45 to 54-year-old Scots spend on average 7.8 hours per weekday sitting down.

That compares to 7.4 hours of sedentary time for the over-75s.

Sedentary time is defined as time spent in any waking activity done while sitting, including working, eating, watching TV or time on a computer.

The study group said the figures highlighted the potential health risks of excessive sitting at work.

Experts say that high levels of sedentary time – more than seven hours a day – increases the risk of an early death, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, even if people are physically active at other times of the day

Only the youngest group surveyed – 16 to 24-year-olds – are less sedentary than the over 75s on weekdays.

The findings from the University of Edinburgh’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre are published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.

Researchers drew upon data from more than 14,000 people in Scotland, taken from the 2012-14 Scottish Health Survey.

At the weekend, the weekday situation reverses. Those aged 25 to 54 were the least sedentary, sitting for between 5.2 and 5.7 hours a day. The over 75s were the most sedentary, at 7.3 to 7.4 hours a day.

For the youngest group, most of the time sitting down is in front of a TV or screen.

Men spend less time in front of a screen as they get older, with women peaking in middle-age.

Lead researcher Tessa Strain said: “Large parts of the population are dangerously sedentary, something we have underestimated.

“We need to tackle high levels of sedentary time in early and middle age, when patterns may develop.

“Our findings suggest that changing habits in the workplace could be an appropriate place to start, given how much time we spend sitting there every day.”

Player protests force change on GTA V mod kit

Grand Theft Auto 5

Player protests have prompted the publishers of GTA V to halt legal action against a widely used software add-on for the single-player version.

Take-Two claimed the Open IV program that let people change, or mod, the game’s basic elements aided cheats.

In response, players wrote thousands of negative reviews of the game and more than 77,000 signed a petition calling for Open IV to be left alone.

GTA creator Rockstar also put pressure on Take-Two to change its mind.

on the GTA V chat forums, Rockstar said “discussions” with Take-Two had led to it ending the legal action.

The row blew up last week when the lead developer of Open IV said the mod kit was being withdrawn because it had been threatened with legal action by Take-Two.

At the same time, Take-Two took action that led to the closure of three sites that advertised themselves as a way for people to cheat when playing online versions of the game.

These extras let people get huge amounts of in-game cash and easily obtain items that otherwise took hours of playing to acquire.

Users of Open IV said Take-Two was wrong to regard the mod kit as a cheating tool because it was designed to work with only single-player versions of GTA.

In its forum message, Rockstar acknowledged this distinction and said its discussions with Take-Two had meant that the publisher had now “agreed that it generally will not take legal action against third-party projects involving Rockstar’s PC games that are single-player, non-commercial, and respect the intellectual property (IP) rights of third parties”.

Rockstar said it believed in “reasonable fan creativity” that let fans show their “passion” for its games.

Take-Two’s decision was also influenced by Open IV’s creators promising to work harder to stop the kit being used by people to cheat in online versions of GTA.

A small number of people had found a way to use Open IV to cheat in this way,

The ending of the legal action was “good news”, .

“It’s helped players produce some cracking mods and machinima [animation],” he said.

Horti added that the Rockstar statement was “carefully worded”, perhaps so it could be reversed later on.

It might need to be, he said, because Take-Two and Rockstar faced a technical challenge when it came to policing add-ons for the game.

“How do Take-Two intend to allow single-player mods without leaving the door open to cheaters?” he asked.