The dangers of mesh implants
28 June, 2017
It emerged recently that over 800 women in the UK are currently taking legal action against the makers of vaginal mesh implants and the NHS due to the pain, discomfort and harm they have received as a result of having them inserted.
A further investigation by the BBC found that it was not just vaginal mesh implants causing problems, but the use of mesh implants in general. The NHS claim mesh implants have been used for decades with no problems, yet some surgeons argue that just under half of patients experience pain from these operations.
So what are mesh implants? Why are there so many people reporting issues? And can anything be done about them?
What are mesh implants?
Mesh implants are made of a type of plastic called polypropylene and they are usually used to treat hernias. Hernias occur when tissue or organs perforate out of their usual place within the body, usually due to the muscle having weakened in a certain spot.
There are multiple types of hernia, but the most common place for a hernia to occur is within the groin. Mesh implants are also used for women who experience pelvic organ prolapses or incontinence after giving birth. These are known as vaginal mesh implants.
The implants act as a barrier and replacement for the damaged muscle, and keep the tissue and organs in place by pushing them back where they belong. They are implanted through both open and keyhole surgery.
It is believed that 1 in 10 people will experience a hernia in their lifetime, and mesh implants are the NHS-recommended treatment.
What are the issues?
So if mesh implants are the recommended treatment, why are there currently debates surrounding their use?
Unfortunately many have been left with debilitating pain from these operations. The BBC’s investigations found that around 1 in 11 of the 92,000 women who had vaginal or other types of mesh implants inserted between 2007 and 2015 experienced problems. It is argued that there is not enough being done to warn people, ahead of surgery, about the issues that may arise from mesh implants; and some even believe they should be scrapped altogether.
The issues that people have with the implants vary. One woman who spoke to the BBC told of how the mesh got stuck to her bowel, causing it to twist, leaving her on ‘all fours in pain’. She required a second operation to remove the problematic mesh, which took four hours, but she was relieved to be rid of it.
Many people report that they are unable to pinpoint the exact reason their mesh implants cause so much pain, but they are able to ascertain that they are the cause of it, as the pain started when they were inserted. Some of the women the BBC spoke to said that when they approached their GP they were told that mesh implants were perfectly safe.
It’s not always straight after the implants that patients start experiencing pain either. For some it can be many years down the line, which means identifying the cause is more difficult, and the pain is not easily preventable without using a different method entirely.
Tens of thousands of mesh implants are inserted every year, yet one former surgeon says that patients are being warned of the severe pain hernias can cause. He says he spent much of his career removing problematic mesh from patients, especially those with groin hernias. Additionally, he says that while ‘at least half’ of patients recover fine, the rest are left suffering without warning.
What are the alternatives?
Mesh implants are clearly causing issues for many and, although it doesn’t affect everyone, there should be procedures in place to warn patients of the risks of mesh operations.
Many people are unaware of what the mesh is, or what it looks like, so giving people a clearer understanding may help them make their own decisions on whether they want mesh repair.
But are there any alternatives? For those with groin hernias, the answer is yes. A technique developed by Shouldice Hernia Centre in Toronto has a 99.5% lifetime success rate and involves the surgeon securing the abdominal wall by overlapping layers, once the perforating bulge has been put back where it belongs. This method would give patients another option and surgeons say the NHS should be teaching its staff how to perform the surgery for that reason.
However, the NHS refuse to acknowledge that mesh repair is an issue. They claim it has been used ‘extensively and successfully in the UK for several decades’ and is still the most effective way to repair hernias.
This response by the NHS seems to ignore the pain and suffering of many, as does the refusal of GPs to listen to patients’ concerns. This is perhaps why so many are beginning to take action against the NHS for the suffering they have incurred.
Compensation will not only help patient recovery and compensate any loss of earnings, it may also force the NHS to stop and think about whether they should offer patients alternative choices, so others do not have to suffer.
If you have suffered as a result of a mesh repair, First4Lawyers are here to help. Our expert solicitors will be able to help you get the justice you deserve, call us today, or fill in our enquiry form.