Women’s lives at risk by Government’s refusal to suspend controversial mesh operations, campaign warns

PUBLISHED: 15:10 29 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:22 30 October 2017

Sling the Mesh campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament today ahead of Westminster debate. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.

Sling the Mesh campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament today ahead of Westminster debate. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.

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Campaigners say the Government are putting women’s lives at risk by refusing to suspend controversial vaginal mesh operations.

Sling the Mesh campaigner and Cambs Times journalist being interviewed near the Commons by Sky TV. PHOTO: Harry RutterSling the Mesh campaigner and Cambs Times journalist being interviewed near the Commons by Sky TV. PHOTO: Harry Rutter

Sling The Mesh has also issued a stern warning to health ministers saying the problem is not about lack of surgical competence but about a product not fit for purpose.

Kath Sansom of Sling The Mesh with David Golten, senior partner of Wedlake Bell which is providing the leagl team for the  campaign's group legal action to sue Johnson and Johnson. PHOTO: Harry RutterKath Sansom of Sling The Mesh with David Golten, senior partner of Wedlake Bell which is providing the leagl team for the campaign's group legal action to sue Johnson and Johnson. PHOTO: Harry Rutter

And campaigners fear surgeons are still not giving patients a full picture of risks during the consent process after seeing women join the group for advice concerned because surgeons say they are not using “that media hype mesh” but instead they are inserting a tape.

Sling the Mesh campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament today ahead of Westminster debate. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.Sling the Mesh campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament today ahead of Westminster debate. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.

In a debate in Westminster, the Government said it would not suspend vaginal mesh or launch a public inquiry as requested by the Labour party.

Health minister Jackie Doyle Price said NICE guidelines would be published 18 months earlier than scheduled - but that turned out to be incorrect and she later had to write a four page letter to MPs to explain the misunderstanding.

Health Minister Jackie Doyle Price said: “From my perspective, the issue is not with the product but with clinical practice. That is what is going wrong.

“That is where we need to be much clearer, ensuring that women are treated properly by their clinicians, given proper advice and risk assessments, and given the opportunity to report any complications and the ability to complain and challenge.

“The Government also need to ensure that all clinicians have the most up-to-date and appropriate advice.

“The focus of this debate is the women who are suffering. The most important thing we can do, my priority is, to ensure that they get the support, care and treatment they need to alleviate a debilitating condition.”

Kath Sansom of Sling The Mesh said: “More than 135 women a week have a mesh tape implant in England alone to treat incontinence or prolapse. The refusal to call breathing space on these operations is putting these women at risk.

“It is not about surgical competence. This is the only blind operation we know of. It uses giant hooks to pierce women’s pelvic areas to insert the mesh. Surgeons can’t see where it is going. That is a huge problem.

“Also the mesh can shrink, twist or degrade. No amount of training or good surgery can account for this.”

Kath said: “Incontinence or prolapse is distressing but it is not life threatening. There are other surgery alternatives that don’t use mesh.”

Emma Hardy MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, said: “The issue of surgical mesh implants was first brought to my attention when I was visited by a constituent.

“She was advised in her 30s to have the mesh fitted, after suffering incontinence following the birth of twins and a hysterectomy.

“Its impact on her quality of life is devastating. She cannot walk very far now, she is unable to work, she is in constant pain and suffering, she is unable to partake in sports and she is having problems sleeping.”

Following the debate there was a lobby of MPs, medics and women led by MP Owen Smith who first lent his support to Sling The Mesh in January 2016.

MP Sharon Hodgson said: “The Government have failed to answer big questions about the extent of this public health scandal, including how many women have been affected and why a product with such terrible risks was allowed into the market in the first place.

“Labour is calling for a full inquiry to uncover the extent of the harm done by mesh implants so we can be sure that this never happens again.”

David Golten, partner and head of commercial litigation at Wedlake Bell, said: “The numbers for both the group action and “Sling the Mesh” are growing every day.

“We continue to hear the most horrific stories from the victims of mesh implants and we are examining the allegations that Johnson & Johnson and the other manufacturers, far from helping women, failed to test these devices properly leading to the life-shattering medical complications women are experiencing.

“We wish to highlight, as the Parliamentary debate did, that the safety of the mesh implants themselves has not been scrutinised properly. “There is still much more action needed from the Government and the NHS to address this issue.”

REGIONAL MPS SUPPORTING SLING THE MESH FROM ALL PARTIES

Mark Tami, MP for Alyn and Deeside, (Lab) said: “A constituent has just had a lengthy and painful surgery, but for years she was told that hers was an isolated case and there was no problem. This is a national scandal and needs to be treated in that way.”

Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, (Lab) said her constituent has suffered pain, depression and sepsis. She is about to lose her job and her life has changed dramatically.

“Others shouldn’t have to suffer the same fate. It really is unacceptable that we are in 2017 and this is allowed to happen.”

Sir Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, (Con) said: “My constituent said to me: that it is shocking that something so agonising has not had the public recognition it deserves.”

Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South, (Lab) said: “I understand from my constituent that NHS England will set up regional teams to look at this. Does my hon. friend agree that cannot be done on a local, ad hoc basis? There needs to be national co-ordination on this.”

Sue Hayman, MP for Workington, (Lab) said: “My constituent Alison had a mesh put in too tight. She was in appalling pain and had to travel all the way from Cumbria to Manchester to get treatment.

“Now she has had it partially removed, she is in a worse state than ever and has to go back to Manchester again. Does my hon. friend agree that something has to be done to help people with removal?”

Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset, (Con) said: There is also a lack of awareness among the general practice community. The procedures are taking place and are deemed to be a success, but these other problems then present themselves and GPs are just not aware of the causal link and how to diagnose it.”

Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute (SNP) said: “My constituent Nancy contacted me recently. She had a mesh implant fitted seven years ago, and her life and that of her family have been turned upside down.

“She is in constant, crippling pain. She needs tramadol, and when the tramadol has not worked, she has been in hospital for four days on morphine.”

Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central, (Lab) said: “Many mesh implants have been fitted at private hospitals rather than NHS hospitals, and we know from the recent case of convicted breast surgeon Ian Paterson that in those circumstances private hospitals deny liability for private surgeons carrying out operations on their premises.”

Jeremy Lefroy, MP for Stafford, (Con), expressed his concern that the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015 was not being followed.

The law says: “The Secretary of State must by regulations impose requirements that the Secretary of State considers necessary to secure that services provided in the carrying on of regulated activities cause no avoidable harm to the persons for whom the services are provided.”

Victoria Atkins, MP for Louth and Horncastle, Con, said: “The point about long-term complications is just as important as that about the ​short-term complications. My constituent developed fibromyalgia as a result of the complications arising from her mesh surgery for stress urinary incontinence. Does the hon. Lady agree that long-term conditions such as that must be taken into account?”

Paul Masterton MP for East Renfrewshire, (Con) said: “As MP for a Scottish constituency, I will focus on the situation in Scotland, where the devastating effects of mesh surgery were first brought to our attention by the campaign group Scottish Mesh Survivors, which is made up of women and their families whose lives have been ruined by the procedure.

“The group is led by my constituent, Elaine Holmes, who brought the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in May 2014. Through the group’s efforts, a request to suspend the surgery was announced by the then Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and an independent review group was established.

“Scotland had an opportunity to lead the way, but, to my deepest regret, it has lost the initiative. The independent review group’s final report, which was published in March this year, has rightly been termed a whitewash.”

Owen Smith MP for Pontypridd, (Lab), said: “The story is quite simple. Since 2000, these products have been diligently marketed by the devices industry as a quick fix—an easy solution to stress-related incontinence or other problems for young women who want to maintain active lifestyles post-childbirth by doing exercise and other ordinary things that we take for granted.

“The regulators and the clinical guidelines said that the risk was between 1% and 3%. However, behind those statistics, the reality has emerged that for a significant number of women—not the majority, but a significant minority—the devices have resulted in chronic, life-changing adverse effects.”

Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives, (Con) said: “Women have written to me or sat opposite me in my surgery have introduced me to their experience: a world of untold suffering, misery, distress and anxiety, which could and should have been avoided.”

Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, (DUP) said: “I have received a large number of emails from Northern Irish people outlining their horrific experiences and some of the ladies affected are in the Gallery today. It would seem that in an attempt to access a cheaper form of surgery, we are putting some people at risk of horrific complications.”

Mims Davies MP for Eastleigh, (Con), said: “Constituents have shared simply horrific accounts of the long-term difficulties that they have experienced as a result of having had a mesh implant.”

Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, (Lab) said: “When one in 15 women fitted with the most common type of mesh will require surgery to extract it, it is clear that the issue needs to be addressed nationally. The figures are staggering and the situation is like Russian roulette.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes (Con) said: “I pay tribute to the many women who have been courageous in coming forward and discussing intensely painful and personal experiences, not only with myself but with other Members. I would like to quote one, who said:

“I am in so much pain at times that I just give up on the day. The pain never goes, it just varies in intensity.”

Chris Ruane MP for Vale of Clwyd (Lab) said: “If the companies failed to introduce proper clinical trials at the outset, they should now be queueing up to ask these women to come forward so that they can look at the specific cases where the devices have failed.

“There has been cavalier practice, and we cannot allow that to continue.”

Jo Platt MP for Leigh (Lab/Co-op) said: “I have a constituent who is suffering. She told me of her experiences of the failed procedure, which left her barely able to walk, and bedridden for three months. She spoke of the pressure that put on her family, ​with her children left to care for her and her husband unable to work overtime due to childcare commitments”

Alec Shelbrooke, MP for Elmet and Rothwell (Con), said: “This is the tip of the iceberg and that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of women out there who could be struggling. Of course, they may not know yet that they will have a problem, because we do not have the data.

“My constituent who came to see me is incredibly brave. She could not make herself at all comfortable during my surgery, but leant forward with her hands on the table. She could not sit, could not stand straight and could not bend over. As the consultation went on, she was sweating more and more with pain.

“My constituent was a physiotherapist and had led a very active life. She can now barely get through a day.”

Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower (Lab) said: “Women are always reluctant to speak out about the personal and intimate medical issues that they experience. Sadly, they are highlighted only when things go wrong.”

Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester, (Lab), said: “Its seriousness was brought home to me when a constituent came to see me. He had had an inguinal hernia repair that developed complications because of the mesh used in the procedure. It left him in agony; he described it as like having a metal plate wedged in his lower abdomen.

“Eventually, he had to have corrective surgery, but it did not resolve the chronic pain that he suffers. That points to one of the unique aspects of this problem, which is the difficulty of removing the mesh and correcting the initial surgery.”

Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North, (SNP) said; “One of the most important things that has come through clearly in the debate is the collection and analysis of data, so that a full picture of the situation can be brought up. We have heard so many times of individual cases where people are told, “This is just you; this is an isolated case,” when it very clearly is not. The evidence has to be gathered, and full investigations have to take place and continue.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, (Lab) said: “I especially want to thank Kath Sansom, who leads the Sling the Mesh campaign, for all her hard work in uniting the women affected by vaginal mesh implants and for raising awareness of the tragic impact that mesh implants have had on so many lives.

“The experiences we have heard about today are incredibly distressing. We are here to stand up for those women, and we seek answers and Government action on their behalf.”

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