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September 13th 2018

Medical Negligence

Evidence of women who suffer from vaginal mesh implants is key as review seeks to bring change

Michelle Tebbutt

Michelle Tebbutt

Solicitor, Clinical Negligence

Evidence of women who suffer from vaginal mesh implants is key as review seeks to bring change

The decision earlier this year to suspend the use of vaginal mesh implants when treating women with complications after childbirth has resulted in many contacting our legal team for advice given the impact it has had on their lives.

The decision earlier this year to suspend the use of vaginal mesh implants when treating women with complications after childbirth has resulted in many contacting our legal team for advice given the impact it has had on their lives.

With that in mind it was with great interest that I attended a recent meeting of the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, which is touring the country, to listen to people whose lives have been affected.

My colleague in London, Josie Robinson, has already been instructed on some cases with regards to this matter and I wanted to hear first-hand exactly what people were told about this implant when they were given it, the reaction and support they’d had from medical professionals when problems occurred, and the impact it has had on their lives.

As a solicitor representing victims of medical negligence, it is important to not only have an understanding of the individual cases you are involved in, but also a wider knowledge of the treatment, when and why it is required, the decision-making process as to its use and the support provided to patients.

Established due to concerns that many people have suffered and been ignored for too long, the review, led by Baroness Julia Cumberlege, aims to make sure people are finally heard and, if needed, changes made.

Meetings across the country are aimed at giving women and their families the opportunity to speak about how vaginal mesh implants have impacted on their quality of life and health.

The implants have been used by surgeons for many years to treat pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence in women. It is estimated that more than 100,000 UK women had a mesh fitted before they were halted due to concerns relating to ‘life-changing and life-threatening’ injuries being caused.

Obviously, when such a widely used procedure is suspended after so many people have had it, there are many concerns.

When were concerns first raised and what action was taken? Was it ever a suitable solution or ever proven to be safe? Were health officials always going somewhat into the unknown?

It has to be stressed that of all the implants procedures carried out, only around 15% of patients have complained of pain and discomfort.

However, what was clear at the review meeting was that many people had been told by health professionals that the pains and discomfort they have discovered could be related to other issues, when in fact the mesh had been to blame.

Stories of life-changing impact on women due to mesh implants were shocking

I have to say I was shocked by some of the stories I heard from people who attended the review meeting at the Goodwin Development Trust in Hull. It is clear that for some, mesh implants have been truly life-changing.

One lady told spoke about how it had destroyed her life. She has suffered so much pain since having the implant that she is at times unable to get up off the floor. She was left unable to work and therefore lost her job, and her home as she couldn’t pay the mortgage.

Others spoke of how their concerns about the mesh had been repeatedly dismissed by health officials.

One lady claimed she had been told it was a ‘mental health’ issue for her, whilst another was wrongly told her pain was caused as the result of a traffic accident. It was only when she had the matter investigated privately that the mesh was identified as the cause.

Women talked of feeling suicidal at times, whilst partners and husbands also spoke at the meeting and were emotional about the impact on their lives. It was clear this issue has not just impacted on many women, but their families and loved ones too.

Until the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England agreed to the immediate suspension of vaginal mesh implants in July, the stance of NHS England had been that most patients suffer no ill effects.

Many complaints may as a result have been dismissed, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the number of people affected is actually higher than the 15% figure being suggested.

Review is a chance for women to help change medical approach

Baroness Cumberlege, Chair of the Review, is leading the review into the use of surgical mesh, hormone pregnancy test Primodos and the anti-epileptic drug sodium valproate, and says evidence gathered will be considered before a report is published containing findings and recommendations.

In a recent update on the review website, she said: “This has been an eye-opening experience. For me, meeting and listening is an essential and moving part of learning, and I have been saddened, shocked and overwhelmed by so many of the stories we have heard, and what we have come to understand as a result.

“My admiration for all of those I have met and heard from knows no bounds – their bravery in coming forward with their stories and in many cases advocating on behalf of others who have experienced similar hardships, is truly exceptional. I want to thank them all for their openness, bravery and generosity.”

Those are comments are completely agree with.

It was shocking to hear how peoples’ lives have been so badly affected by medical intervention that they had little or no information about, and were certainly not in a position to consent to.

I have to say that whilst conducted in an open and transparent manner, the review meeting respected the sensitive and personal nature of the subject matter – and those speaking out.

This is something which is key if as many people as possible are to feel able to come forward and give evidence, and for this review is to achieve its goals.

The aim is simple, to result in safer health care for women who have complications after bringing a child into the world.

  • The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review has future meetings over the impact of mesh implants scheduled for Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Newcastle and Glasgow. Details can be found at http://immdsreview.org.uk/visits.html

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