The agreement of the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to immediately suspend the use of vaginal mesh implants to treat complications after childbirth appears highly significant.
And perhaps most significant of all are the words used by Baroness Cumberlege, who has led the independent review into the use of the controversial implants.
Saying her team had been ‘appalled at the seriousness and scale of the tragic stories of women and their families’, she said the review team were in ‘no doubt that this pause is necessary’.
“We have heard from many women who are suffering terribly,” she said.
“Their bravery and dignity in speaking out is deeply moving, and their sadness, anger, pain and frustration at what has happened to them and others has been compelling.
“We had to act now. We must stop exposing women to the risk of life-changing and life-threatening injuries. We must have measures in place to mitigate the risk, and those are sadly lacking at the moment.”
Powerful words, and words which have led to the Department of Health and NHS England accepting the recommendation to halt the use when treating women with stress urinary incontinence
That is not only a major victory for campaigners, but also represents an acceptance from health officials that there is a risk – and potentially thousands of people have suffered as a result.
Suspension of vaginal mesh use represents chance of stance from health officials
Until now, the stance of NHS England has been that most patients suffer no ill effects from vaginal mesh implants, which have been used by surgeons to treat pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence in women.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 UK women have had a mesh fitted, as the net-like fabric can be attached into the wall of the vagina to act as a scaffold to support organs such as the bladder, to keep them in the right place to help manage incontinence or another condition called prolapse.
Many women have long reported severe and constant abdominal and vaginal pain after surgery, with infections, bleeding and even organ erosion reported. For some, they say the pain is so severe they are unable to have sex, whilst others have spoken about feeling suicidal, such has been the impact on their lives.
“We have not seen evidence on the benefits of mesh that outweighs the severity of human suffering caused by mesh complications,” added Baroness Cumberlege.
Full inquiry report must examine all aspects of use of vaginal mesh
As a solicitor representing women affected by vaginal mesh implants, I certainly feel the full findings of the review must delve deeper into their use, particularly with regards to what exactly was known about the risks involved, the number of people suffering from complications, and the discussions which were had with patients before it was used.
Consent will be a big issue, as will be the monitoring of their use across the health service to track potential complications.
Baroness Cumberlege has put forward conditions that now need to be met by March 2019 before the use of vaginal mesh can be again considered safe.
These include that surgeons should only undertake the operations if they are appropriately trained, and only if they undertake the operations regularly. The review also recommended the creation of a registry to keep track of any complications.
It is certainly a hugely positive step.
The worry, however, is that perhaps this has come too late for many women, who were not listened to early enough, despite increasing numbers speaking out about the hugely negative impact it has had on their lives.