UPDATE: Since we published this story in April, there have been several developments in the UK. Founder of the Sling the Mesh campaign Kath Sansom will be attending parliament on July 18 along with a number of other victims and experts. Led by MP Owen Smith, they aim to introduce a year-long suspension of mesh implants similar to Scotland who have banned the use of the procedure until May 2018. “How can Scottish women be afforded that protection, while the government ignores the rest of us?” she told The Pool.
Over 800 women are preparing to sue the NHS and the companies behind vaginal mesh implants after suffering from intense and constant pain.
The plastic meshes are used to treat incontinence after childbirth along with prolapses in pelvic organs including the vagina, uterus, bowel and bladder.
Between April 2007 and March 2015, more than 92,000 women in England had vaginal mesh tape implants inserted, according to NHS data. The same statistics show that around one in 11 women have reported problems.
One woman told the BBC how “the mesh had cut its way through like a cheese-wire”, causing her so much pain that she struggled to look after her children.
Kate Langley said she was admitted into hospital a staggering 53 times to try and stop the pain but was told that her mesh implant could not be fully removed as it was too close to a nerve.
This is the same story for many other women who claim they were not warned about the potential complications and permanence of the procedure.
Kath Sansom was left with “searing leg and groin pain” after undergoing the operation in 2015. After realising she wasn’t alone, she set up the Sling The Mesh campaign in order to raise awareness of the catastrophic risks of the 20 minute procedure.
Kath’s Facebook group now has over 1300 members sharing their stories. “Overnight, I went from a super fit mum of teenagers who did boxing training twice a week, high board diving, swimming, mountain biking and dancing at gigs to a physical wreck who could just about walk my dog round the park,” she says.
“At least half the women in my campaign have lost their sex lives where the mesh has either cut into or inflamed their sensitive tissue. It becomes too painful to try to have personal relationships. All for an operation that was supposed to improve their quality of life.”
Another woman, Claire Cooper, revealed how her womb was removed after doctors believed it to be the source of her pain. After the pain continued, she thought about committing suicide.
“This stuff breaks up my marriages. [My husband and I] haven’t had sex for four-and-a-half years. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there are mesh-injured women that have taken their own lives and didn’t know what the problem was,” she commented.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) states that implants are safe and effective for the majority of women but it “sympathises” with those who are suffering.
Although mesh implants are successfully used elsewhere in the body, the plastic parts appear to react differently when inserted into the abdomen.
This can potentially lead to the mesh cutting into the body, leaving the individual with severe abdominal and vaginal pain. Some people may also be told they can never have sex again.
Only two consultants are qualified in removing the meshes; an extremely difficult procedure. One of them, Dr Sohier Elneil, told the BBC just some of the side effects she has witnessed.
“[Patients] become so incapacitated that many of them are either walking by crutches or sitting in wheelchairs and perhaps more dramatically so, they become unable to look after their families,” she said.
Jackie Dee from Northern Ireland has been one of the few women to have her implant successfully removed. After having it inserted in 2005, she began to experience pain in her hips and legs along with psoriasis on her scalp, ears and nails.
“I eventually made the connection to the mesh despite being told of no potential complications,” Jackie tells Yahoo Style UK. “My gynaecologist never accepted it could be the mesh and instead referred me to a spinal specialist.”
“I asked to be referred to England as I knew there were a couple of surgeons experienced in mesh removal there,” she continues. “I was put on an NHS waiting list but knew I would get nowhere as other women here are not being treated adequately for mesh complications.”
By this point, Jackie “was struggling to walk” and even found sitting down painful. Five weeks ago, she had her implant removed in Oxford. “I borrowed the money as I couldn’t wait another year living my life like this. I’m 48 but felt about 98,” she says.
“To be honest, I was one of the luckier ones in this. It had a detrimental effect on my life but the mesh didn’t erode into my internal organs like some women. Mine had been put in too high up and the plastic had shrunk. My psoriasis disappeared a week after removal and the pain is now much better but it will probably never fully go away.”
A recent review in Scotland concluded that vaginal mesh implants should not be routinely used for pelvic organ prolapse. However, the suspension was lifted in March with regular prescriptions now taking place across the entire UK.
In the States, thousands of women have undergone a similar process. They sought legal action against implant manufacturers, resulting in payouts totalling several billion dollars.
Labour MP Owen Smith is holding a parliamentary debate next month on the issue, saying: “I think there is a really good case for saying ‘suspend its usage’ until there is clarity about the scale of the problems we’re facing.”
NHS England have responded to the controversy with a spokesperson stating: “While many women have been treated successfully using transvaginal mesh implants, we do recognise a number of women have suffered complications or poor outcomes.”
“We have listened carefully to issues raised through a working group of women affected, which has made recommendations to improve the quality of care and information available. We are making progress in completing these changes and a final report setting out the action taken will be published later this year.”
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