Women's mesh removal service is so busy that all new referrals are stopped until further notice
PUBLISHED: 11:20 05 January 2019 | UPDATED: 19:42 17 January 2019
Women have been cast aside with a distressing lack of support and treatment options after the door shut for referrals to London's lifeline mesh removal surgeon Suzy Elneil.
GPs are unable to refer women to Ms Elneil until further notice to enable her to catch up with a tsunami-style backlog of work.
The decision, by University Hospital College London, has prompted criticism from MP Owen Smith, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group into mesh and Oxford University professor Carl Heneghan who says women have less rights than high street shoppers.
Women are waiting up to 16 months for mesh removal with Ms Elneil and around a year with the other key surgeons that women trust, Natalia Price of Oxford, Hashim Hashim of Bristol and Karen Ward of Manchester.
The NHS target wait limit is 18 weeks.
Owen Smith said: “Suzy Elneil has been a lifeline for women and it will be distressing for many to learn that they won’t be able to be referred throughout 2019.
“What this reveals, however, is the widespread lack of support and treatment options for women, both those needing mesh to be removed and those requiring alternative treatment for prolapse or incontinence.
“We need a permanent helpline for mesh-injured women as well as a programme of surgical training to increase capacity within the NHS to both remove mesh and to treat women.
“I hope Baroness Cumberledge’s review and the Royal College of Surgeons will consider these measures as priorities for 2019.”
Carl Heneghan said: “It is completely unacceptable for the NHS to cast women adrift like this. Consumers seemingly have more protection than patients within the NHS.
“If you bought a defective device from a shop, under the Consumer Rights Act the retailer has a duty to repair or replace faulty goods.
“The long waits now proposed for women suffering as a consequence of defective medical practice is incompatible with safe and effective healthcare and puts women worse off than everyday shoppers on the high street.
“Health professionals have a duty of candour to offer an appropriate remedy or support to put matters right (if possible) and to be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong.
“None of which seems to be happening in this case. We urgently need an explanation of why women are exceeding the maximum waiting time for non-urgent consultant-led treatments, which is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked.”
But UCLH says it is not a problem as it has other surgeons that women can see.
The referral cut off date was December 3.
A spokesman for UCLH said: “We are experiencing a high demand in referrals to Ms Elneil, a consultant urogynaecologist, which has led to patients waiting considerably longer than the NHS recommended wait time of 18 weeks.
“To ensure that all existing patients are seen in a timely manner, we have stopped accepting external ‘named’ referrals to reconcile clinic and surgical waiting lists.
“This pause will not affect patients who have already been referred to the service.
“We have three other urogynaecology specialists currently accepting referrals. These are Mr Alfred Cutner, Mr Arvind Vashisht and Mr Anthony Kupelian.
“GPs are welcome to refer to one of these other specialists, or the urogynaecology team generally at UCLH.
“The service stopped accepting new referrals to Ms Elneil on December 3, 2018.”
A spokesman for Sling The Mesh said: “Women’s trust is shattered. There are very few surgeons we trust to remove mesh and without recognised removal training programmes women are not likely to trust going to different consultants on the basis that they are self appointed ‘experts.’”.
A spokesman for RCOG said: “It is absolutely vital that women with mesh-related complications receive prompt and comprehensive support and care from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals in a specialist unit.
“Women can either self-refer or be referred by their GP to any one of the specialist centres across the country identified by the British Society of Urogynaecology based on compliance with set criteria.
“NHS England is currently producing a specification for mesh removal centres which will be commissioned to provide care for women with mesh complications through a network.
“RCOG remains committed to ensuring the highest standards of training and care among obstetricians and gynaecologists (O&Gs). Consultants who work in specialist units must have the necessary skills required to operate in the affected areas of women with mesh related complications.
“RCOG provides the GMC approved curriculum for subspecialty training in urogynaecology which addresses mesh complications.
“The RCOG continues to work with key partners to meet the conditions set out by the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review to ensure the safety of treatments – including mesh – for women with stress urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse.”
• In most cases patients have a legal right to choose the hospital or service to go to, as well as the clinical team led by a consultant or named healthcare professional. For more information, see guidance on choosing a hospital or consultant and choosing a mental health service.