“...our report makes for uncomfortable reading” - Patient failings exposed in pelvic mesh implant review
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The shocking extent of patient failings and lack of regulation is exposed in the hard hitting inquiry which delves into the use of pelvic mesh implants in the UK.
Contributors to the review, mainly women, spoke openly about how they were not adequately warned about the risks involved with the procedure and that serious and life-changing complications were later dismissed by doctors.
Many were under the impression the vaginal mesh implant procedure being offered to them would be a “quick fix” for stress incontinence or prolapse.
But one contributor at the review said she now feels like a “cruel experiment”.
Others spoke of being “fobbed off” by their implanting surgeons when they raised concerns and some were even told their complications were symptoms of the menopause.
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“Women were used as cannon fodder in the mesh implant scandal and nobody bothered helping them when they needed it,” said Kath Sansom, a March mum and former Cambs Times journalist who welcomes the report.
Kath launched the “Sling the Mesh” campaign five years ago to raise awareness of life-changing complications some women are suffering following the procedure.
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The campaign’s Facebook group now has over 8,200 members, a number Kath says is “just the tip of the iceberg” as not everyone is on social media and vaginal mesh implants have been used quite extensively since the late 1990s.
The procedure for incontinence and vaginal prolapse is currently suspended in the UK - and will remain so as the relevant authorities have not been able to meet a set of conditions in order to resume the procedure.
Mesh can still be used if it is inserted abdominally for prolapse.
She said: “The average time for women to report mesh complications is seven years later.
“There are many more women yet to come out of the woodwork suffering shocking complications following this quick fix operation, mostly given to correct problems caused by childbirth.”
She added: “There is also no glory in knowing so many women have had to tell embarrassing, personal stories to the review and in the media to have our voices heard.”
Lack of regulation and oversight in the UK when it comes to medical devices is also addressed in the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review final report, which is titled “First Do No Harm”.
Led by Baroness Julia Cumberledge, the review also delves into hormone pregnancy tests which are understood to be linked to birth defects and miscarriages and also sodium valpotate an epilepsy drug which causes development problems for children when taken by pregnant mothers.
Baroness Cumberledge described the patient-related stories as “harrowing”.
Complications from vaginal mesh implants can vary. Some women are no longer able to walk or sit for long periods of time, others have felt suicidal and many have lost their sex-life.
The knock-on effect is that many are unable to work and have lost their homes, marriages have collapsed with children and grandchildren left to care for older relatives.
The report also reveals how the authorities do not know how many patients have actually undergone pelvic implant surgery and not all medical professionals are transparent about funding sources for their research interests.
Baroness Cumberledge said: “We have seen NHS staff rise to the enormous challenge posted by the COVID-19 pandemic and we applaud them for their amazing commitment.
“I’m afraid, however, that our report makes for uncomfortable reading, including for the hard-working, compassionate people who do excellent work in our health service.
“I have conducted many reviews and inquiries over the years, but I have never encountered anything like this; the intensity of suffering experienced by so many families, and the fact that they have endured it for decades.
“Much of this suffering was entirely avoidable, caused and compounded by failings in the health system itself.”
She added: “We are urging the system to do what it should have done years ago, to help those who have suffered and put in place the processes that will enable it to learn from past mistakes so that we spare other families from such anguish.
“The system’s response – or lack of one – has added to the pain – both physical and mental - of those affected.”
The review has ordered the Government “immediately makes a fulsome apology on behalf of the healthcare system” affected by the areas covered in the review.
Also among its nine recommendations is that a Patient Safety Commissioner is appointed who would advocate on patients’ behalf, a “Redress Agency” is set up for those harmed by medicines and medical devices and that specialist mesh centres are established.
A central database should also be created to track the progress of any mesh complications and the financial interests of all doctors are recorded by the General Medical Council.
Kath commented: “One of the best outcomes from this report is that doctors and teaching hospitals will have to log money and non financial gifts they have taken from the medicines and medical device industry.
“This is a huge achievement and will make a massive difference to all patient campaigners in the future.”