Penningtons Manches LLP’s clinical negligence team is currently investigating a number of claims against Frimley Park Hospital relating to care provided by former consultant gynaecologist Jayne Cockburn who inappropriately recommended and performed surgery for stress incontinence and other problems such as a prolapsed womb. Since investigating these claims, the team has received enquiries from women who have undergone similar surgery at other hospitals and are concerned that they have been given negligent care or were not advised of the risks and long term effects of undergoing these types of procedures.

The cases which are being investigated involve the use of transvaginal tapes, referred to as either TVT/TOT or TVT-O (depending on the type of tape and method used). The tapes are inserted as a means of providing support to the bladder to alleviate problems of incontinence. Some of the other women who are being represented by Penningtons Manches have undergone the fitting of a mesh or a procedure such as a hysteropexy to deal with a prolapsed womb.

Unfortunately, in many of these cases, the operations prove to be unnecessary and are offered before more conservative treatments have been fully explored such as a supervised course of physiotherapy for incontinence or the use of pessaries for a prolapse. The risks associated with these different types of surgical procedures are not always properly explained to patients, meaning that they cannot give their full informed consent. In some cases the transvaginal tapes have been inserted incorrectly and, in other cases, the vaginal mesh used has eroded into the surrounding tissue, causing excruciating pain and related symptoms when the patient had not been advised of this risk at the outset.

Women who have experienced such complications have reported numerous long-term injuries, including recurrent urinary infections, incontinence, urgency, abdominal pain and pain during sexual intercourse. In many cases, women who have had vaginal mesh inserted have had to undergo several complex operations to remove the mesh and correct the damage. Some of these injuries are not repairable and the women are likely to suffer symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Surgery involving synthentic slings (tapes) and vaginal mesh no longer takes place in Scotland but, currently, it is still offered in the rest of the UK and around 13,000 operations are performed each year. In recent months, the complications associated with this type of surgery have started to be reported in the press, as more and more women have come forward to discuss their experiences. In October last year, there was an article published in the Daily Mail telling the sad story of Kin Vallis, a young woman who had to have pain-relieving injections to walk down the aisle after suffering complications following TVT surgery. The support group Sling the Mesh was started by journalist Kath Samson, who also suffered complications from her TVT surgery and campaigns to ban the surgery across the UK. It is initiatives such as this that are raising awareness of the suitability of this type of incontinence surgery.

Emma Beeson, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches who is handling several of the claims against Miss Cockburn, said: “In some of the cases we have dealt with, our clients have had a brilliant response to the use of transvaginal tapes and it has resolved their symptoms. However, it is important to understand that procedures involving the use of synthetic slings (tapes) and vaginal mesh do not come without their risks. Women should be aware of these risks and provide their full informed consent before undergoing procedures. While dealing with these cases, I have seen the devastating effects that some of our clients have experienced.

“We are aware that there are numerous product liability claims being brought against Johnson & Johnson in relation to transvaginal tapes but these involve concerns over the tapes themselves. As clinical negligence lawyers, we focus on whether the operations to insert these tapes are being performed correctly and whether women are being fully informed of the risks prior to surgery so that they can give their full consent.

"We are conscious that many more women may have been affected throughout England and Wales. They need to be aware that there is a time limit for pursuing any clinical negligence claim which expires three years after the date of the negligence. On occasions, a later date may be used if it can be argued that the patient did not become aware of a significant injury caused by the negligence immediately but this needs to be assessed.