Vaginal mesh can now only be used in the most limited circumstances due to the risks which have become more and more apparent over the last few years. However, historically it was used for many women, often unnecessarily, and this is why health minister Jackie Doyle-Price is now urging women who have been adversely affected by mesh implants to seek advice and consider making a claim for medical negligence.
Vaginal mesh is the term applied to different types of manufactured biological or synthetic implantable devices, often referred to as tapes or slings. The main uses are to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. The mesh is inserted through the vagina to provide support to the tissue in that area. Many women have seen good results from mesh implants but numerous others have suffered serious complications which could have been avoided.
Complications include the mesh eroding through the skin and tissue, meaning it is exposed through the vagina. This causes vaginal bleeding, discharge and pain. It can also make intercourse painful. Another common complication is when the mesh migrates outside the vaginal wall causing injury to the vagina, bladder and surrounding blood vessels.
Sometimes the mesh can simply be trimmed to resolve symptoms but in many cases it is very difficult to treat because the mesh is affecting other organs. Some women have to undergo multiple operations before their symptoms are resolved but sometimes removal is just not possible and patients are left with long-term pain and ongoing infections.
In 2017 Jackie Doyle-Price refused to suspend the use of vaginal mesh, stating that the benefits outweighed the risks. However, at a recent Parliamentary debate, whilst discussing the ‘lack of transparency’ in medical devices in the UK generally, she voiced concerns that doctors were still failing to warn women of the risks of vaginal mesh implants.
Emily Hartland, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “In many cases we find that vaginal mesh should never have been used and if the patient had been advised to try conservative treatment, such as pelvic floor exercises, their symptoms would have resolved and they wouldn’t have needed surgery. We have even had cases where vaginal mesh was used when the patient did not have any symptoms of urinary incontinence or prolapse, meaning the surgery was completely unnecessary.
“Other examples of claims relate to doctors not fully informing patients of the risks of vaginal mesh implants, in particular the risk of the mesh eroding through the skin or migrating outside the vaginal wall injuring surrounding organs. We refer to these cases as ‘consent cases’ because every patient must give their informed consent before undergoing a procedure and if they are not told about all the material risks, they will not have given their informed consent. Many women we act for would not have gone ahead with vaginal mesh surgery had they been told about and understood all of the risks.
“Vaginal mesh is now rarely used which should mean less women are suffering from the potentially devastating consequences. However, as it was widely used for some time, many women are still experiencing complications and we hope Jackie Doyle-Price’s comments will give them the confidence to seek advice about whether they have a potential medical negligence claim.”