Calls for Public Inquiry into Vaginal Mesh Surgery

18 Jul 2017 | Stephanie Prior

Table of Contents

A leading professor from the University of Oxford has called for a public inquiry into the use of vaginal mesh surgery following concern that these procedures are much more risky than the Department of Health’s official figures suggest. In the previous decade over 126,000 women in England underwent vaginal mesh surgery in an attempt to cure urinary incontinence and organ prolapse and it is understood that a significant proportion of these women have been left with painful and traumatising complications as a result.

Vaginal Mesh Surgery

A vaginal mesh is simply a synthetic net-like material (made of polypropylene) which is used to replace weak connective tissues or ligaments, suspending the vagina and uterus. The mesh is implanted during a simple operation during which the vagina is opened at the vaginal wall and the mesh is secured in place. The surgery is common in women aged over 50.

Although complications are noted to be rare, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has previously recognised several possible complications of this surgery including mesh erosion, infection, bleeding and reoccurring prolapses. The procedure and vaginal mesh implants are generally thought to be safe with the benefits outweighing the risks if the treatment is used correctly; however there appears to be growing concern that the surgery is being used inappropriately.

There have been numerous press reports in recent years of circumstances where this surgery has had an adverse outcome for patients. Thousands of women have had severe reactions to the mesh implants and common problems include chronic pain which is caused when the mesh erodes and fragments within a woman’s body and pieces of mesh eroding and entering the woman’s bladder. In one case a lady had to have an organ which had become ensnared in the mesh removed and many women report the loss of their sex lives and further psychological damage including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A number of women have had to undergo subsequent hospital admission to remove the mesh implants and further alternative procedures. Having the procedure reversed is in itself very complicated and risky given that the mesh is designed to be permanent and embeds itself in the surrounding tissue.

Future Legal Action

Legal action has already been commenced by a group of women who are taking action against both the National Health Service and the American company Johnson & Johnson, the biggest manufacturer of these mesh implants. The company has recently told journalists that it will vigorously defend the litigation however the claimants, in addition to seeking the recovery of compensation for their injuries, are asking for both the procedure and the mesh materials to be banned.

Although manufacturers in the US have paid out billions of dollars in compensation, the outcome of the litigation in the English courts remains to be seen. Many of the claimants allege that they were never warned by their treating surgeons of the risks and complications associated with this treatment and should they be successful they could recover compensation payments amounting to tens of millions of pounds.

The calls for a public inquiry are likely to bring further publicity to this issue. It has been suggested that problems have arisen mainly due to aggressive marketing of substandard products by manufacturers together with inadequate training of doctors in relation to these procedures and it is hoped that any such public inquiry can shed more light on this area.

Under English law, medical practitioners are required to act in accordance with a reasonable body of medical opinion and if they fall below this standard and cause loss or injury to patients, they are liable under the law of negligence.

 If you have undergone vaginal mesh treatment and feel that you may have suffered injury as a result, then please do not hesitate to contact partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer Stephanie Prior on 020 7681 8671, or Nicola Hall, Solicitor, on 020 7681 8701.

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