Government’s Pausing Of Vaginal Mesh Implant Surgery Has Come Too Late For Far Too Many Women

4th March 2019 by

Victims of botched vaginal mesh surgery are, in increasing numbers, asking specialist surgical mesh implant solicitors to help them make medical negligence compensation claims, after having their lives turned upside down. The government has stopped all vaginal mesh operations pending the outcome of a review.

An article on the BBC News website in July 2018 was one of the first to report that the government had decided to halt the use of surgical vaginal mesh implants as a means of treating women suffering from a pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence caused by bladder weakness.

The government’s action was in response to campaigns by groups such as Sling the Mesh and the Labour MP, Owen Smith who championed the cause in Parliament for halting the controversial surgery. In February 2018, this led to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, ordering an independent inquiry into the use by the NHS of vaginal mesh devices.

Baroness Cumberlege, who chairs the inquiry which is ongoing into 2019, said;

“We strongly believe that mesh must not be used to treat women with stress urinary incontinence until we can manage the risk of complications much more effectively. We have not seen evidence on the benefits of mesh that outweighs the severity of human suffering caused by mesh complication.”

What is pelvic organ prolapse?

Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the muscles and tissues supporting the pelvic organs – the bladder, uterus, cervix, vagina and rectum – become weak. This weakness can cause one or more of the pelvic organs to drop or press into or out of the vagina.

About one in 12 women living in the community in the UK report symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Pelvic organ prolapse is one of the conditions known as Pelvic Floor Disorder. The other most common of these conditions are urinary incontinence (leaking of urine) and fecal incontinence (leaking of stool).

Common risk factors leading to pelvic organ prolapse are:

  1. Vaginal child birth
  2. Pressure on the abdomen over a long period e.g. long-term obesity
  3. Hormonal changes that occur during menopause
  4. Ageing
  5. Family history of the disorder

Treatment of pelvic organ prolapse

If the prolapse is mild to moderate, the NHS has long indicated that non-surgical treatment options may well be sufficient. These include doing pelvic floor exercises, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a high fibre diet, avoiding lifting heavy weights, quitting smoking and avoiding high impact exercise.

Hormone oestrogen tablets or cream are often recommended by doctors in the case of a mild prolapse and where the patient has been through the menopause.

Another type of treatment is the use of a pessary, which is a removable device inserted into the vagina to support the organs.

However, for more severe prolapses, surgery has often been recommended by consultants. This can take the form of surgical repair that lifts and supports the organs without the use of tape, by using the patient’s own body tissue and stitching the organs into place. Alternatively, it can involve the use of surgical mesh or tape.

Surgical mesh implants

Until the recent pausing of vaginal mesh surgery, it became increasingly common for the medical profession to advise that mesh implants were the most convenient and reliable way to treat urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse. The use of vaginal implants began in the UK in the 1990s. The mesh was used to form a type of sling to hold the organs in place. Although they have worked for some women, many others have suffered severe complications and pain, after undergoing the procedure.

Some of the complications experienced by women after undergoing surgical mesh implants, include:

  • Mesh eroding through the vaginal wall or piercing the bladder
  • Nerve damage
  • Severe infection
  • Chronic pain

A number of those affected have suffered crippling injuries and become housebound as a result.

As the mesh was designed to allow bodily tissue to grow through it, it is very difficult to remove without causing further damage. There are only a few surgeons in the world who are sufficiently experienced to successfully remove implants.

Nevertheless, an investigation carried out by the Guardian newspaper in 2017, found that 1 in 15 women in the UK who underwent mesh implant procedures, later experienced such severe problems that they had to have surgery to have the implants removed.

Making a surgical mesh implant claim

The report of the government-led enquiry into the use of surgical mesh implants, is expected to be released in the early months of 2019. However, its members were concerned enough back in July 2018 to advise the government to put a pause on the use of surgical mesh implants and in their press release of the 10th July, they laid down the conditions that they felt should be met before the pause was to be lifted, as follows:

“The conditions of lifting the pause in the use of surgical mesh, which should be met by March 2019, are as follows:

  1. Surgeons should only undertake operations for SUI if they are appropriately trained, and only if they undertake operations regularly;
  2. They report every procedure to a national database;
  3. A register of operations is maintained to ensure every procedure is notified and the woman identified who has undergone the surgery;
  4. Reporting of complications via MRHA is linked to the register;
  5. Identification and accreditation of specialist centres for SUI mesh procedures, for removal procedures and other aspects of care for those adversely affected by surgical mesh.”

Baroness Cumberlege, who is leading the inquiry, was moved to say:

“Surgeons should only undertake the operations if they are appropriately trained.”

This is quite a worrying comment for those who have already undergone surgical mesh implant surgery and have since been suffering from the complications outlined earlier in this article, as it suggests that in some cases, the surgeons that performed their surgery, may have lacked the necessary experience to do so!

Healthcare professionals have a duty to warn their patients of the risks of surgery and to obtain the patients’ informed consent to having that surgery.

Much of the available information about the risks of vaginal mesh surgery, has been found to be incorrect.

There are concerns that women who have undergone mesh surgery and have suffered complications may not have been given sufficient warnings of the risk of the surgery by their healthcare professionals before they consented to undergoing this type of surgery.

Equally if they have not been advised sufficiently about the alternative types of treatment available to them – surgical and non-surgical – before providing consent, then they cannot be said to have given their ‘informed consent.’

In summary – a vaginal mesh compensation claim (following surgery that goes wrong) may have reasonable chances of succeeding if any of the following circumstances apply:

  1. The surgeon carrying out the operation made errors and/ or was insufficiently trained to carry out the procedure;
  2. The medical professionals failed to warn the patient sufficiently of the risk of mesh implant surgery before obtaining her consent to the operation;
  3. The medical professionals failed to advise the patient about the availability of alternative non-surgical treatment before obtaining consent to the operation.

If you have suffered painful side effects from having a surgical mesh implant fitted, (or having a faulty or badly fitted one removed) you may be entitled to make a claim for medical negligence.

Surgical mesh implant compensation claims can be complex. This is an area of medical negligence claims that should most certainly only be taken on by expert medical negligence solicitors with experience of dealing with surgical mesh implant claims.

Healys’ medical negligence partner, Jonathan Austen-Jones, has had considerable experience of helping the victims of surgical mesh procedures that have gone wrong make successful medical negligence compensation claims. Call Jonathan in complete confidence and without obligation on 0800 280 0432 or you can contact him online.