Women injured by mesh tell of shattered lives - but health officials in Belfast say they will not suspend the controversial operation

Campaigners in Meshed Up Northern Ireland meet health officials for the first time in Belfast

Campaigners in Meshed Up Northern Ireland meet health officials for the first time in Belfast - Credit: Archant

Women suffering mesh problems in Northern Ireland have been told the operation will not be suspended because health officials insist that for many women it works.

A two hour meeting in Belfast was joined by a public health agency official and a patient client council member, alongside 15 campaigners, who all told how they previously enjoyed healthy, active, pain-free lives.

Many of them now need sticks to help them walk or suffer reduced mobility and pain.

Women told of strained relationships and one whose marriage had broken down.

One has lost her bladder where mesh sliced into it and now faces an operation to rebuild her urethra which has been sliced into after 18 years.

Another told how since having mesh to treat mild incontinence she can no longer sit down without suffering searing, cutting and burning pains in her pelvis.

The Public Health Agency told the women that instead of suspending mesh they plan to set up a working party to make sure women get all the facts on risks beforehand.

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They also want to set up specialist centres to treat women with mesh problems and set up scans, using the same equipment used for pregnant women, to detect the plastic implants.

Currently patients have to travel to England - but campaigners say it uses equipment already readily available in hospitals, it just requires the scanners to have training to learn how to read the scans to detect mesh.

They promised women could have a second opinion, including going to removal experts in England, and that ECR referrals would be handled within two weeks.

Jackie Harvey, of Meshed up NI, said: “Chronic pain must be addressed. Women affected suffer life changing pain yet clinicians are ignoring it.

“We share common stories of relentless pain in hips, back, private parts, mobility issues, there’s so much anger, clinicians are condemning women to a lifetime of damage, with reduced quality of life, yet telling them when they present with problems that they need to manage their pain better.”

Kath Sansom, of Sling The Mesh, who flew from England to join the meeting, said: “By refusing to suspend mesh operations they are ignoring the scale of this issue.

“Women are being used as collateral damage. If a car had this many problems it would be withdrawn.

“England and Scotland held working groups for three years to discuss ensuring surgeons outline mesh risks, yet despite this we have new members join Sling The Mesh who had recent operations but still not warned.

“That proves working groups were a waste of time. Nothing will stop a pro mesh surgeon down playing complications.”

During the meeting public health agency officials admitted they had not heard of the latest study, out in September, which shows the risk of going to hospital for complications with the most commonly used mesh to treat incontinence is almost 10 per cent.

The real number suffering will be much higher as not all women go to hospital instead going to GPs for pain medication.

The public health officials knew of the PROSPECT study, which shows prolapse mesh risk is 12 per cent, and admitted this type of mesh should not be used.

Kath said: “If they think 12 per cent is too high a risk for prolapse mesh then why do they think 9.8 per cent is acceptable for incontinence mesh - when we know that even that figure is way lower than the true number suffering?”

• A Westminster debate was held on October 18.

• Politicians from the DUP, Sinn Fein, SNP, Conservartives and Labour have all pledged their support for women suffering.

• David Golten, partner and head of commercial litigation at Wedlake Bell, said: “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.”