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Medical Negligence

Vaginal mesh implants allowed back on the NHS say NICE

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Alice Sanderson, April 03, 2019

New guidelines by health watchdog NICE mean that controversial vaginal mesh implants can be offered on the NHS once again if certain conditions are met.

Following safety concerns the use of vaginal mesh was halted across the UK last year.

A number of women were left unable to walk, work or have sex after the treatment for incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse caused damage to their bodies.

What do the new guidelines say?

The new guidelines from NICE say that all operations must be performed by specialist surgeons at specialist centres.

Mesh implants would be used only after non-surgical options, such as pelvic floor training, had failed, and every patient will receive a “decision aid” which will detail all the latest evidence on available treatments.

Any operation using vaginal mesh must also be recorded on a national database “to help with future decision making”.

The guidelines are for England only, and while the NHS is not compelled to act upon them, it is expected to take them into account when delivering treatment.

1 in 10 suffering

An 8 year study of more than 90,000 women found that almost 1 in 10 had suffered complications within 5 years of a vaginal mesh procedure.

Kath Sansom, founder of campaign group Sling the Mesh, said that the NICE guidelines are “so weak – they clear the way for the next generation of women to be harmed” and that they are “no different from what was published in 2003”, an accusation NICE disputes.

She said that women’s stories had been ignored by NICE, adding: "Our Sling the Mesh survey shows one in 20 women have attempted suicide and more than half have regular suicidal thoughts because of chronic pain, loss of sex life, constant infections and autoimmune disease."

More than 800 women are currently taking legal action against the makers of vaginal mesh implants and the NHS.  

Effects “must not be ignored”

NICE said it had allowed the surgery to resume because “limited evidence” meant “the true prevalence of long-term complications following surgery with mesh is unknown”.

This statement was met with widespread backlash, with Labour MP Owen Smith saying he was “deeply disappointed”.

"The updated guidelines appear to disregard mesh-injured women's experiences by stating that there is no long-term evidence of adverse effects," he said.

"Thousands of women have faced life-changing injuries following mesh surgery and they must not be ignored."

Instead he suggested that the suspension of the surgery should continue until an independent review – led by Baroness Julia Cumberlege – publishes its findings later in the year.

Baroness Cumberlege herself echoed this, saying that her team had set "five conditions that would need to be met before the pause could be lifted and the use of mesh could be contemplated".

"Those conditions have not yet been met and it is clear to us that it will be some considerable time before they are.

"This means that, now and for the foreseeable future, mesh should not be used to treat stress urinary incontinence, either in the NHS or the independent sector.

"The scale and intensity of this tragedy is truly shocking – lives have been ruined."

Informed choices

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care official said: "NICE's new guidelines and patient decision aids on managing urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse will help women make more informed choices about their treatment.

"The use of vaginal mesh was paused to ensure that patients receive a high-quality and consistent service.

"Mesh will still be a treatment for some women who understand the risks and following discussions with their consultant."

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) also welcomed NICE’s recommendations, but added that it was “important to note” that a period of “high-vigilance” remained regarding the implants’ use.

Further information

If you are suffering due to complications from vaginal mesh implants or any other form of medical negligence, our team could help you. Call us today or request a call back for more information.

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