Thousands of women worldwide have reported life-changing side effects after having vaginal mesh surgery, often after childbirth, including debilitating pain leaving some unable to walk, work or have sex.
The Government has committed to investigating issues with vaginal mesh through a full retrospective audit of hospital records to confirm how many women underwent subsequent hospital treatment and consultations after experiencing complications.
On Wednesday Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also announced a review of how authorities have handled medical complaints and feedback from patients.
However, speaking about reviewing the approval of vaginal mesh for market in the first place, Hunt confirmed: “We are not proposing to revisit the science”.
Kath Sansom, founder of campaign group Sling the Mesh, told HuffPost UK: “The government’s reviews do not go far enough because Jeremy Hunt said they would not revisit the science – yet this is where the problem lies.”
Many of the preliminary trials for mesh were carried out on animals, she said, adding “[they] can’t tell you about chronic pain in your legs, pelvis or back, or burning in the vagina making it impossible to have sex”.
Later trials on humans gave participants limited medical questionnaires to answer, Sansom argues, and were not conducted over long periods of time. “A lot of so-called existing ‘science research’ is based on short term trials, with a research team funded by industry, so it is like marking your own exam papers,” she said.
The Government’s audit into the risks of vaginal mesh, announced in January, is expected to be completed by April.
More than 100,000 women in the UK have had a mesh fitted, and the audit involves linking data on patients’ conditions and mesh surgery to subsequent NHS hospital treatment and consultations.
Once the data has been gathered and analysed, it will be published by the Department of Health.
But Sling The Mesh argues that the Government should write to all women who have had vaginal mesh surgery – whether they received treatment for complications or not – because a true picture of risks can not be gathered from data on hospital visits alone.
Sling the Mesh and other campaign groups have called for a full ban on vaginal mesh implants.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) previously recommended the use mesh for vaginal wall prolapse should be suspended and only used in the “context of research” while the audit is carried out.
As part of his address, Hunt said he’d asked the Chief Medical Officer for advice. “Clinical experts here and abroad agree that, when used appropriately, many women gain benefits from this intervention, hence a full ban is not the right answer in the light of the current evidence available,” he said.
Sansom questions this due to the short term nature of some human trials. “If a woman has had a good outcome it is only ‘for now’. Any woman who has had mesh is a ticking time bomb as the product can shrink or twist years down the line,” she said.
MP Owen Smith, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Surgical Mesh Implants, also expressed his disappointment, saying: “It is a shame...that NICE is still unable or unwilling to bring forward its review into the safety and efficacy of mesh and that the Government will not suspend mesh until the reviews have been undertaken, as has happened in New Zealand.”