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According to a report released last month, painful side effects and complications mean around 1 in 15 women fitted with trans-vaginal mesh support will need to have it removed. Ben Lees takes a look at the Mesh Oversight Group Report, and what it means for trans-vaginal mesh procedures.
By Ben Lees
A report published last month by the Mesh Oversight Group has drawn attention to something that is fast becoming a serious women’s health scandal: trans-vaginal mesh procedures. The data shows that nearly 7% of women who undergo the procedure will need to have it removed later on.
The problem with trans-vaginal mesh is that it has a high incidence of serious side effects.
Side effects can range from chronic pain and loss of sexual function, to major complications. For example, the implant can protrude through the bladder or bowel, even necessitating the removal of organs caught up in the mesh. The material can also shrink inside the body, slicing through nerve endings, tissue and organs. So, what is often presented to patients as a ‘quick fix’ for their medical problems, can quickly turn into a nightmare.
In the past decade, due to suffering complications, thousands of women have undergone surgery to have vaginal mesh implants removed. NHS Digital records show that between 2006 and 2016 just over 75,000 trans-vaginal tape implants were fitted, and during the same period more than 4,900 procedures were carried out to remove the implants.
After being placed in the body, the plastic mesh becomes embedded in surrounding tissue, the aim being that it becomes permanent. In contrast to the relatively simple insertion of the mesh, full removal can require hours of surgery and is a very serious procedure for a patient to undergo.
Despite the wide range of potential complications, and the high rate of removals, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has – somewhat surprisingly – found ‘insufficient evidence’ to justify a ban on the products being used. 100,000 women are currently involved in litigation in America, where the device has been upgraded to ‘higher risk’, and politicians in Scotland called for trans-vaginal mesh operations to be suspended back in 2014. Yet, there remain around 100 different types of mesh implant available on the NHS.
There have also been calls for an increase in funding or availability or more appropriate non-surgical treatments, such as pelvic floor physiotherapy. It is estimated that the introduction of this treatment could help 60-80% of women, who would then not have to endure more invasive surgical procedures. In France, for example, this is provided as standard after women have had children.
Trans-vaginal mesh is a net-like implant used to treat pelvis organ prolapse and stress incontinence in women. The surgery has been widely considered as a single, less invasive alternative approach to traditional surgical approaches for treating these conditions (which can occur after childbirth) since the early 2000s.
A trans-vaginal tape implant – the most common kind of mesh procedure – procedure typically takes 30 minutes and is performed using keyhole surgery. This means that this method has been widely favoured over traditional open-surgery procedures, which take longer to perform, involve a lengthier recovery for patients, and were associated with their own range of complications.
We have extensive experience with clients who have been affected by negligent gynaecological treatment, and have seen first hand the effects that negligent surgery can have on an individual’s life. We hope that this report begins to spark some long-overdue action.