Vaginal mesh is a treatment given to women who experience pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence, often as a result of childbirth. The treatment is common in the UK, with more than 92,000 women receiving a vaginal mesh implant between April 2007 and March 2015 in England alone.
Women who’ve undergone the procedure have reported complications including severe pain when walking and sitting, leaving some unable to work. Some have also said complications have had a negative impact on their mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.
The Department of Health and Social Care announced on Tuesday it accepts the case made by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Surgical Mesh Implants and campaigners to conduct a retrospective audit into vaginal mesh surgery. The audit will help officials better understand the scale of risks women face when undergoing surgery and inform decisions over the use of vaginal mesh going forward.
Cat Lee, a 43-year-old mum-of-two, suffered with severely impaired bladder control after the birth of her second child, Charlie. The former Huddersfield University lecturer underwent vaginal mesh surgery and suffered complications. She can no longer have sex, uses a mobility scooter and has retired early due to the pain she experiences on a daily basis.
“Ten years on, I’m convinced that the so-called ‘simple’ vaginal mesh surgery has ruined my life,” she previously told PA.
“Luckily, we didn’t want any more kids, but I don’t feel like a proper mum to Charlie. I can only do the school run a few times a week and then, he has to walk alongside me in my mobility scooter. I can’t play with him like other mums and I don’t feel like much of a wife either.”
The Department of Health and Social Care audit will help the NHS better understand complications related to surgery using mesh like those reported by Cat.
The audit involves linking data on patients’ conditions and the type of surgery to subsequent hospital treatment and consultations in the NHS. Once those data have been gathered and analysed, they will be published by the Department. The work is expected to be completed by April.
The study will provide the most accurate data possible about how many women in England have had mesh implanted, and how many of them have experienced problems after surgery.
NHS England estimates over 100,000 women have been operated on using mesh and that complications affect between 3-5% of cases. However, according to the APPG some recent studies suggest serious complications occur for one in 10 women. In the US, a vaginal mesh manufacturer was ordered to pay an American woman $100 million in compensation for complications relating to the device.
Kath Sansom, founder of campaign group Sling the Mesh, which raises awareness of complications linked to the procedure, welcomed the audit announcement.
“After two decades of mesh use with poor audit, the Government is finally hearing the voices of women whose lives have changed beyond repair,” she said in a statement.
“A survey of 570 women in Sling The Mesh shows a third have suffered mesh slice into their vagina or organs and eight out of ten have pain walking or sitting. Six out of 10 have lost partners because of the strain while seven out of 10 have lost sex lives. A third have had to give up work because of pain. Not surprisingly six out of 10 suffer depression and anxiety.”
Chair of the APPG on Surgical Mesh Implants, Owen Smith MP, added: “Over the last two years I’ve been urging Ministers to conduct an investigation to fully determine problems related to mesh surgery.
“I’m delighted that the government has listened to our concerns and has now agreed to undertake this audit to get a better understanding of complications related to mesh surgery.
“I hope the audit will provide crucial answers about the proportion of women adversely affected by mesh surgery.”