Women left with ‘life changing’ injuries following surgery are calling on a health trust to lead the way nationally by conducting ‘a full and open investigation’ into the impact of vaginal mesh implants on patients – and pledge to offer support to assist their recovery.
The Action for Mesh Injured Patients group, which consists of women who claim to have suffered seriously since having the implants at Torbay Hospital in South Devon, delivered a letter to officials at the hospital to mark International Mesh Awareness Day (May 1).
They are calling on Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust to gather information from all patients who have suffered since having the implant and offer them support and appropriate care to aid their ‘mental and physical health and well-being’.
Ceri Baker, 43, of Dartmoor, Devon, says the implant, which she had at Torbay Hospital in March 2017, left her unable to sit comfortably and unable to do any of the physical activities and hobbies she previously enjoyed with her children and husband, as she was left in constant pain.
After a nerve reaction in January of this year left her unable to walk for just half an hour, she decided to fund the removal of her mesh implant privately, which was carried out in March at a personal cost of £13,000.
However, Ceri and other patients say having to take such drastic measures is unacceptable, and they are demanding the health trust does more for its patients.
Ceri, who has been documenting the impact on her life via a You Tube video diary, said: “Our petition is calling on the hospital trust to look into the care and health of patients who have suffered injury following vaginal mesh implant surgery. A clear picture needs to be identified and communicated.
“Through our social support and campaign groups, it has come to our attention that there are many women who have suffered injury after surgery at Torbay Hospital and their injuries simply have not been addressed or recognised.
“Many of the injured women, like myself, are being forced to seek private treatment – at the cost of thousands of pounds – or are having to go to other hospital trusts out of the area to receive appropriate care in order to save their physical and mental health and well-being. This is not acceptable.
“We are calling for a full investigation to ensure the true health outcomes for all women who underwent mesh surgery at Torbay Hospital since its introduction is understood.
“This should cover details including exactly what information given to patients when seeking their consent to carry out this life-changing procedure. This investigation needs to be carried out with urgency.”
Mother taking legal action for suffering after vaginal mesh implant
The vaginal mesh implants which have caused worldwide controversy were designed to be permanent and during the first weeks after surgery become embedded in the surrounding tissue to provide better pelvic support.
This means surgeons and doctors have to weigh up the risk of damage to nerves and nearby organs, including the bladder and bowel, before agreeing to their removal.Mother-of-three Mrs Baker is currently taking legal action against Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, through Hudgell Solicitors, for the suffering she has endured and the impact on her life.
Mrs Baker claims she was never made aware of the risks by her surgeon and was shocked to see a letter two years later which claimed she had been informed of the success rate and reoperation risks together with the risk of pelvic organ damage, chronic pain, dyspareunia (difficult or painful sexual intercourse), mesh erosion and rejection.
She says she was facing a wait of over a year on the NHS for removal.
“I paid to have the mesh removed privately in order to save myself as if I waited a year it is very likely I would have been unable to work or lead anywhere near a normal life,” she said.
“I was already struggling to do so and having to spend many days lying on the sofa working from home, as I couldn’t sit on a chair for more than 20 minutes comfortably.
“I will now need three to six months off work now to recover and have been told it will be up to two years for full nerve and muscle recovery. “
Solicitor says woman ‘effectively abandoned’ and suffering after surgery
Mrs Baker’s solicitor, Josie Robinson, says it is vital that a clear picture of the impact the vaginal mesh implant has on women’s lives is fully understood, as well as understanding the information they were provided with prior to their operations.
She said: “Ceri and her fellow patients are raising a very important issue in that they are highlighting how women have been effectively abandoned in terms of aftercare and support having suffered tremendously after having these implants.
“Ceri herself was told she would have to wait for more than a year for any treatment on the NHS. This is a woman whose life was hugely affected after her operation and was suffering physically and mentally as a result.
“It is shocking that in today’s world we are talking about people being left to suffer so badly following NHS procedures and having to fund removal operations themselves to regain any quality of life.
“For that reason we fully support what Ceri and her fellow patients are saying. Let’s have more investigation, greater transparency, and more commitment to help women in the same position.”
Health watchdog gave green light for mesh to be used again despite ongoing review
Last July, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England agreed to immediately suspend the use of mesh implants after a Medical Devices Safety Review, led by Baroness Cumberlege, heard from many women about the ‘life-changing’ and ‘life-threatening injuries’ they had suffered.
However, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) last month issued new guidelines paving the way for the implants to be used again, with the review still to be completed.
Mrs Baker added: “I hope women don’t see the new guidance and think all concerns have been dismissed.
“I have joined many support groups online and seen that thousands of women are campaigning from all over the world for their voices to be heard and for vaginal mesh to be banned.
“The NHS still isn’t responding quickly to the plight of these desperately ill women or coming forward to find them and give them a clear plan of intervention with real care and time plans for removal, and further corrective surgery.
“Instead, desperately ill women all over the UK are being left to fight this whole battle for themselves. It is entirely wrong.”
Trust ended use of mesh implants indefinitely and now offers ‘more traditional surgery options’
In a statement to the media, issued in response to the delivery of the letter outlining the campaign group’s requests, a spokesperson for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are unable to comment about specific cases; however, we are committed to listening to our patients and the public to ensure that we’re continually providing the highest quality of care possible.
“Due to public concerns about this type of surgery, as well as some updated NICE recommendations, we voluntarily stopped using the meshes in October 2017.
“Before we removed the meshes as a surgical option for our patients, we had been significantly reducing the number of procedures being carried out using these meshes, well before the NICE recommendations were made.
“As a trust, we have decided to stop using the meshes indefinitely and we are currently offering our patients the more traditional surgery options.
“However, we are closely monitoring the evidence and development of alternatives so that we can ensure that we are at the forefront of any future surgical developments.”