More than a third of women who have undergone vaginal mesh surgery have sought urgent care in trauma units due to the subsequent pain they experience, the latest figures reveal.
Forced to seek emergency help due to “incredible pain”, campaigners say many sufferers are also forced to attend multiple medical appointments before being properly diagnosed.
They say the new figures, buried deep within an experimental report published by NHS Digital, are shocking.
The statistics were released after thousands around the world reported life-changing complications from vaginal mesh, a treatment given to women who experience pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence often as a result of childbirth.
They show that nearly half of all women who had a vaginal mesh insertion in 2008/2009 have attended a trauma and orthopaedic clinic by 2016/17.
Vaginal mesh, sometimes known as “tape” or “ribbon”, is designed to support the vaginal wall and internal muscles. The figures released on Tuesday cover patients who have had a procedure for uro-gynaecological prolapse or stress urinary incontinence.
Women who have undergone the procedure have told HuffPost that they experienced severe pain when walking and sitting, leaving some unable to work. Some also said complications have had a negative impact on their mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.
Kath Sansom, founder of Sling The Mesh, a campaign group against the use of vaginal mesh, said of the findings: “The reason why a woman might be sent to a trauma and orthopaedics clinic is because... you’re in so much pain and the pain can radiate round into your hips and up into your back.”
Sansom said that many GPs may not realise at first why a woman is in such pain, sometimes misdiagnosing them with back problems.
Labour MP Owen Smith, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Surgical Mesh, urged the NHS to suspend the use of mesh until the product is reviewed.
Smith said: “Government has previously, repeatedly claimed that mesh was ‘safe’ and that just 1 to 3% of women suffer serious complications after surgery.
“However, their own statistics now shows that around 40% of women treated with mesh are subsequently undergoing outpatient treatment for Trauma or Orthopaedics, 50% need further treatment for Gynaecological complications and almost 10% are treated for pain in hospital outpatient clinics.”
But campaigners fear the real picture may be much worse. Not included in the statistics published are the use of private clinics, or any figures from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Sansom said that many women will often opt for private care because the pain they are experiencing is so severe. “A lot of women in the campaign group opt for private removal because the minute the know it’s a problem they just want to get it out of them so they find the money or they borrow the money, they take out loans,” Sansom said.
“It’s a very traumatic thing when it goes wrong,” Sansom added.
She added that the NHS waiting time to see a mesh removal expert can sometimes be so long that women will cash in pensions, remortgage their homes, use their savings and do whatever they can to be seen quickly.
Factoring in the number of women who sought help privately would make a “massive difference” to the current statistics released by NHS Digital, Sansom said.
The figures reveal that overall, the number of women to have had the procedure has decreased in the last eight years. In 2016/17 there were 7,245 patients implanted with vaginal mesh – a 48% drop from the 13,990 patients recorded in 2008/09.
Sansom accused the government of “burying the information” and presenting the main findings in the report in such a way as to “make it look like mesh isn’t a problem”. The figures on outpatient trauma referrals were on page 36 out of the 46-page report.