The issue of surgical mesh implants was first brought to my attention when I was visited by a constituent. She was advised to have the mesh fitted in her 30s after suffering incontinence following the birth of twins and a hysterectomy. The impact it has had on her quality of life is devastating. She can't walk very far now, she is unable to work, she is in constant pain and suffering. She is unable to partake in sport and has problems sleeping. I remember listening to her telling me about this life changing experience and being completely shocked.
Mesh surgery is a medical procedure used to treat incontinence and prolapse in women. The surgery, which usually takes less than half an hour, involves inserting a plastic mesh into the vagina to support the bladder, womb or bowel.
Although for most the surgery is successful, at present we have estimates from the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority that around 1% to 3% suffer with complications. But a recent research report for the scientific journal 'Nature' showed evidence of around 10% of women suffering from complications after surgery, and other research studies estimate it could be 15% to 20% or even higher.
Mesh surgery was sold to many women as an easy fix to their problem and a quick way to allow them to carry on with their lives. Yet since I applied for the debate in Westminster Hall, my email inbox has been filling up with emails from women across the country telling me their horrific stories after having mesh implanted. Women in their thirties, forties and fifties are telling us they're struggling to walk, they've lost their sex lives and suffer from horrendous pain day in day out. Some are even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the horrific impact the mesh has had on their quality of life.
And I have no doubt that many women are suffering in silence, either too worried or too embarrassed to see their MPs or completely unaware that their symptoms are replicated in other women who have had the mesh fitted.
But this is only part of the problem, women are telling us that they're going back to their doctors and surgeons after surgery and are being met with blank faces when they describe the complications they're experiencing.
Our asks of the Government are simple. Leading a debate in Parliament today, I asked the Government to:
- Commit to a full retrospective and mandatory audit of all interventions using mesh followed by a full public enquiry.
- Suspend prolapse and incontinence mesh operations while the audit is being carried out.
- Bring forward the NICE guidelines for mesh in stress related urinary incontinence from 2019 to 2018.
- Commit to raising awareness of the issue with doctors and patients alike.
Yet the Minister's response was very disappointing. I agree that the majority of women have not suffered complications but with potentially 10-15% of those who have had surgery experiencing devastating, life changing problems, the level of risk is just too high.
The Minister also failed to address the safety of the product itself. She stated that the Medicines and Healthcare products and Regulatory Authority has advised that mesh is the best route to treat stress urinary incontinence. There have, however, been serious concerns expressed by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Surgical Mesh and campaigns such as Sling the Mesh over how products are regulated.
Prof Carl Heneghan, who is the Professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, argues that manufacturers have to provide little evidence before their product is clinically approved and made available on the NHS. I'd totally agree with Owen Smith, the Chair of the APPG, when he says that the fact many companies have already taken their mesh product off the market should tell us that something is not right with these devices. We have to go to the very core of the issue and investigate the fundamental safety of these products, which needs to be acknowledged by the government.
Mesh implants have affected thousands of people all over the country. For some, the consequences of their operations will be life-changing and devastating. By committing to taking action now, the Government will not be able to undo the suffering and pain these people have endured, but it will go a long way to making sure that nothing like this will happen again.