The use of vaginal mesh to treat stress urinary incontinence (SUI) has been suspended by the Department of Health and NHS England, meaning around 11,000 women per year will no longer receive the controversial surgery.
Women around the world have reported life-changing side effects after receiving the treatment, including debilitating pain leaving some unable to walk, work or have sex.
Campaigners have long called for a ban on the mesh, and following initial meetings with women and families adversely affected by procedures, the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review concluded there must be an immediate pause in the use of surgical mesh for the treatment of SUI.
The Department of Health and NHS England have both accepted the recommendation, which has been called “long overdue” by campaigners.
[READ MORE: What is vaginal mesh?]
Vaginal mesh surgery, largely given to women who experience incontinence after childbirth, involves inserting a synthetic net material into the body to patch up an area of weak connective tissue or ligaments. It’s sometimes also referred to as tape or sling surgery. Alternative types of surgery and medication are still available for women with SUI.
Baroness Julia Cumberlege, who led the review, said the mesh should not be used for the treatment of SUI until a set of conditions to mitigate the risks of injury are met.
“My team and I are in no doubt that this pause is necessary. We must stop exposing women to the risk of life-changing and life-threatening injuries,” she said.
Between April 2008 to March 2017, 100,516 patients received vaginal mesh surgery for incontinence in England, equating to just over 11,000 each year, according to data from NHS digital.
Baroness Cumberlege said a set on conditions should be met before the use of surgical mesh for SUI resumes, and these should be met by March 2019.
“We strongly believe that mesh must not be used to treat women with stress urinary incontinence until we can manage the risk of complications much more effectively,” she added. “We have not seen evidence on the benefits of mesh that outweighs the severity of human suffering caused by mesh complications.
“I have been appalled at the seriousness and scale of the tragic stories we have heard from women and their families. We have heard from many women who are suffering terribly. Their bravery and dignity in speaking out is deeply moving, and their sadness, anger, pain and frustration at what has happened to them and others has been compelling. We had to act now.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has already recommended the use mesh for vaginal wall prolapse should be suspended and only used in the “context of research” while more is carried out.
Commenting on the latest suspension, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Surgical Mesh Implants, Owen Smith MP, said: “This is wonderful news and it is long overdue, it is also a complete vindication of all those women who have campaigned tirelessly to suspend mesh and highlighted the damage the procedure has caused to many women.”
He urged the Health Secretary to formally announce the decision and “assure MPs that no mesh operations will take place during this suspension”.
“I hope that Ministers in Wales and Scotland and civil servants in Northern Ireland will follow suit and halt the procedure,” he said.
Kath Sansom, founder of campaign group Sling the Mesh, added: “This is incredible news and vindication for more than 6,100 members of Sling The Mesh who have been maimed by this operation and then ignored, some for years. It is testament to people power. Our members have written, emailed, attended Parliament and lobbied to get this result and I am delighted.”
Sansom has also called for the suspension of other mesh surgeries, such as rectopexy mesh, which is used when patients suffer faecal incontinence after a rectal prolapse. Members of the public have also previously told HuffPost UK they’ve experienced life-changing complications as a result of hernia mesh operations.