Vaginal mesh procedures like 'Russian roulette', say victims

Almost 100 women who have suffered significant complications from vaginal mesh implants have today gone to Parliament to speak on what could be the “biggest health scandal of our time.”

The plastic meshes are used to treat incontinence after childbirth along with prolapses in pelvic organs including the vagina, uterus, bowel and bladder.

The 20 minute ‘routine’ procedure involves inserting a plastic mesh into the vagina to support the bladder.

But around 2000 women have spoken up about their complications which range from chronic pain to being left unable to walk.

Vaginal mesh implants have ruined some women’s lives [Photo: BBC]
Vaginal mesh implants have ruined some women’s lives [Photo: BBC]

One woman likened the procedure to “Russian roulette.” 41-year-old Julie Gilsenan underwent the operation in February after suffering from mild incontinence. Now, she struggles to walk long distances and is in constant pain.

“If I’d have known the extent it would change my life, that I couldn’t work and do the things I used to do with my family, there is absolutely no way I would have agreed to have the surgery,” she told Sky.

Between 2007 and 2016, over 92,000 women in England had vaginal mesh tape implants inserted. The same NHS data shows that around one in 11 women have reported problems.

Today’s parliamentary summit, led by MP Owen Smith, will see victims and experts including leading gynaecologist John Osborn, the UK’s top mesh removal surgeon Sohier Elneil and Sling the Mesh campaign founder Kath Sansom.

“In seven years of being an MP, this is one of the worst medical issues I have come across,” Owen Smith commented.

“I am deeply concerned that so many women have experienced profound, life changing complications after mesh surgery. Women who have undergone the surgery invariably say they were advised that this was a simple operation, with little accompanying risk. But for too many, mesh implants have been the cause of chronic and debilitating pain. This issue must be more widely known and discussed.

MP Owen Smith is leading the parliamentary summit which aims to suspend the procedure for at least a year [Photo: PA]
MP Owen Smith is leading the parliamentary summit which aims to suspend the procedure for at least a year [Photo: PA]

“We need answers about the proportion of women adversely affected by vaginal mesh and the safety of the products concerned. I believe there is a strong case for suspending the use of this mesh, to treat stress incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse until those answers have been provided.”

The group are calling for a year-long suspension of mesh implants until further research on their effectiveness has been carried out. If Parliament agrees, it will be a similar move to Scotland who have banned the use of the procedure until at least May 2018.

Campaigner Kath Sansom has over 2,200 members in her Sling the Mesh group. “All of us who are suffering were told it was a simple 20 minute fix,” she said. “What none of us were told were the devastating complications. There are women who now struggle to walk, are in constant pain, suffer infections, loss of sex life or worse mesh shrinking and cutting into bladders, bowels or slicing through vaginal walls.”

“When it goes wrong, it is catastrophic, and even if women have the mesh removed, it is such major surgery that the women never go back to what they once were. The mesh fixes problems of incontinence or prolapse but in its path can leave a trail of disaster that is much bigger.”

The inquiry comes with the news that only four out of ten surgeons log problems with vaginal mesh implants, meaning that complication figures may be even higher than reported.

In a national conference, one consultant admitted that he was “frightened” of implanting two types of pelvic mesh because it was like “skewering women with kebab sticks.”

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