Whistle blower reveals how surgeons deny they use vaginal mesh implants in a play on words

A picture of a mesh kit, called a TVT, used to treat stress incontinence in women. Chief Medical Of

A picture of a mesh kit, called a TVT, used to treat stress incontinence in women. Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies says it is a "lifeline" in appropriately selected women. - Credit: Archant

A hospital in Blackpool is refusing to comment on a surgeon there who is denying they use vaginal mesh implants, in a trend being seen in hospitals across Britain, where women are assured the mesh scandal is just “media hype”.

As the scandal escalates into what is being called the biggest women’s health disaster since thalidomide, some patients are being told their local hospital doesn’t use mesh, it uses tape or a band.

Campaigners say this is a bold play on words that hinges on the details of official wording in NHS paperwork.

The news comes amid a survey by campaign group Sling The Mesh which shows 83 per cent of women say they were not fully warned of risks or told they were having a permanent polypropylene plastic device.

Ruth Turner, a mum of two from Blackpool, agreed to speak out to blow the whistle on the “simple gold standard fix” after her surgeon at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said women were jumping on the bandwagon of problems seen in America.

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After two months of asking for a reaction, the hospital has today refused to comment.

A spokesman said: “After discussions we will not be making any response to the story.”

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Ruth, 57, who works as an advocacy manager for deaf people, and a member of 5,600-strong Sling The Mesh campaign group, said: “My surgeon insisted he didn’t use mesh he was going to use a TVT tape made of polypropylene.

“It wasn’t until I joined Sling The Mesh I realised tape and mesh are the same thing and that polypropylene is plastic!”

She had a consultation in August last year but by October had seen press coverage so called her surgeons’ secretary to discuss it.

“She read a statement over the phone and insisted women were panicking with no good reason because it’s only the American mesh that causes problems.

“I was told he used tape not mesh and it wasn’t anything to do with the media hype and that women were missing out on a good treatment option.

“Had I not done my research and seen women with catastrophic, life changing pain, injuries and complications I would have been reassured and gone ahead and booked the operation.

“Luckily I cancelled. I dodged a bullet. There’s no way of telling who will suffer.

“Being a member of Sling The Mesh has shown me it’s nothing to do with age or build or if you have blue eyes or brown eyes or any other random reason.

“Nobody knows why, it’s Russian Roulette. It breaks my heart to see the terrible problems women are suffering, some with stomas, bladders removed, giving up work, losing their hobbies, in chronic pain.

“My active lifestyle defines who I am, I run and cycle, we are a really fit and active family. Had I lost all that over a simple operation I have no idea what I would have done.

“I would rather live with the problem than risk losing my quality of life.”

Official NHS coding calls incontinence mesh “introduction of a tension free vaginal tape”.

The word mesh is not used in paperwork so surgeons see this as a green light to deny they use it.

Campaigners say this is unethical.

Jackie Harvey,a campaigner from Northern Ireland, said: “The surgeon I saw in 2015 told me that my mesh wasn’t the same as the one in America that was causing all the issues.

“We see it time and again in groups globally that surgeons deny they use mesh, they are using tape - yet a TVT or TVTO tape is made of mesh. And that mesh is made of polypropylene, another word for plastic.

“It is a play on words.

“To deny they use the mesh in the media is arrogant and breaches trust. It breaks ethics under the Montgomery Ruling.”

• We contacted the media teams at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) but have not received a response.

• There are almost 6,000 NHS surgeons working in obstetrics and gynaecology in the UK made up of:

- Consultants 44 per cent = 2,686

- Speciality doctors 25 per cent = 1,500

- Trainees 31 per cent = 1,858

• RCOG has 1,550 surgeon members in England, 65 in Northern Ireland, 150 in Scotland and 70 in Wales.

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