News broke this week that hundreds of women were suing the NHS and the manufacturers of vaginal mesh implants after facing serious health complications. Women have been left unable to walk, work or have sex as a result of the treatment, with many sufferers claiming they were never informed of the potential dangers before having the mesh fitted.
The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire program ran an exclusive feature on the legal action, sharing the stories of many women that have been left in permanent, debilitating pain. As clinical negligence solicitors, we find it extremely encouraging to see high profile coverage of this important issue. It not only spreads awareness of the dangers of mesh implants to a wider audience, but we hope talking about these issues will help dispel the stigma surrounding injuries of this kind.
So, what is a vaginal mesh implant?
A vaginal mesh is a purely synthetic net material used in the placement of a weak connective tissue or ligaments, suspending the vagina and the uterus. The treatment is common in the UK, with more than 92,000 women receiving a vaginal mesh between April 2007 and March 2015 in England alone. The implants are used by surgeons to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence in women, two conditions which commonly occur after childbirth.
As discussed in our previous blog on ‘Stopping the Stigma of Childbirth injuries,’ many women find it difficult to talk about the injuries they incur in childbirth and complications with vaginal meshing is no different. Many can feel too uncomfortable or embarrassed to find out what might be causing their symptoms.
Unfortunately, even those who did seek help from medical professionals found that they were not being listened to. One sufferer, who began to experience pain three years after giving birth to her first child, had her womb removed at the age of 39 after doctors believed it to be the source of her pain. When she went back to her GP after the operation with continuing pain, she was told she was ‘imagining it.’ The severity of the pain, coupled with the lack of understanding and support, resulted in the woman having suicidal thoughts. She told the BBC “This stuff breaks up marriages. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there are mesh-injured women that have taken their own lives and didn’t know what the problem was.”
Despite data collected by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) showing more than 1,000 adverse incidents related to the mesh had been reported in the last five years, the regulator continued to say that ‘the figures did not necessarily indicate a fault with any device.’ While they claimed to ‘sympathise’ with women who had suffered complications, none of the 100 different types of vagina mesh implants available on the NHS have been recalled.
Lawsuits in the US have seen around £2 billion being paid out to women affected by vaginal mesh implants. If the women in the UK are successful in their legal action, experts have anticipated the NHS could have to pay out tens of millions of pounds of compensation. However, this alone will not address the issue and cannot reverse the pain and suffering that so many women have gone through. Many women remain unsure what symptoms to expect after the procedure, it is vital that women are aware of the risks and should not hesitate to seek help if they experience any pain or discomfort.