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‘Suffering was entirely avoidable’ - review reveals ‘failings’ of thousands of women

PUBLISHED: 00:01 08 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:46 08 July 2020

A two year review into the use of mesh implants to treat incontinence and other health conditions was published today. Kath Sansom (L), from March, launched the 'Sling the Mesh' campaign group in 2015.

A two year review into the use of mesh implants to treat incontinence and other health conditions was published today. Kath Sansom (L), from March, launched the 'Sling the Mesh' campaign group in 2015.

Archant

The suffering of thousands of women who have been left with devastating complications caused by implants could have been avoided, a hard-hitting review has revealed.

A TVT mesh implant. Photo: ArchantA TVT mesh implant. Photo: Archant

It highlighted how complications have resulted in relationship and family breakdown, loss of employment, loss of a home or financial hardship.

A two year review, published today, has told of the life-changing stories of women across the country who experienced “excruciating chronic pain feeling like razors inside their body” as a result of mesh surgery.

Other side effects included “damage to organs, the loss of mobility and sex life and depression and suicidal thoughts.”

The treatment has been used in the pelvis to treat conditions such as stress incontinence and prolapse in women, but the review said that its “long-term risk profile” is still unknown.

Kath Sansom, Sling The Mesh campaigner. Picture: HARRY RUTTERKath Sansom, Sling The Mesh campaigner. Picture: HARRY RUTTER

The Independent Medicines And Medical Devices Safety Review, which was led by Baroness Julia Cumberledge, was set up to look into the use of pelvic mesh following concerns of suffering women who had been fitted with them.

Kath Sansom from March set up the support group ‘Sling the Mesh’ in June 2015 to raise awareness of the complications as a result of her own experiences with a mesh implant which was used to treat stress urinary incontinence following childbirth.

The former Cambs Times journalist welcomed the report, saying the campaign’s Facebook group, which has more than 8,200 members, is “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“There are many more women yet to come out of the woodwork suffering shocking complications following this quick fix operation, mostly given to correct problems caused by childbirth,” she added.

Campaigners of the 'Sling the Mesh' group at Parliament in 2017. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.Campaigners of the 'Sling the Mesh' group at Parliament in 2017. PHOTO: Harry Rutter.

“Mesh was never designed to be removed as it embeds into the pelvic tissue, getting it out is like trying to painstakingly remove chewing gum from matted hair.”

Natalie Finbow, 53, from Tharston said she lost her job and ability to do everyday activities such as playing with her grandchildren as a result of having a mesh procedure in 2009 after suffering stress incontinence.

The former hairdresser said she was not told she had the implant and only found out after a scan revealed mesh had twisted and broken inside her.

The mum-of-three said: “Within a few days of the procedure I had a lot of pain already but I just put that down to surgery but unfortunately it carried on and I had to have it redone within six months and I still didn’t know it was mesh, no idea about the possible side effects.

Natalie Finbow from Tharston said she can not work anymore after having a mesh procedure in 2009 after suffering stress incontinence. Picture: Natalie FinbowNatalie Finbow from Tharston said she can not work anymore after having a mesh procedure in 2009 after suffering stress incontinence. Picture: Natalie Finbow

“I can’t work anymore and because of the medication I can’t function properly because all of this.

“I can’t do a lot of the things I liked to do, like swimming, going on walks with the dog and grandchildren.

“I tend to sit around a lot because I can’t do anything because of the pain. If I go out it’s on crutches and I can’t go out shopping. I have to rely on my husband to do those things for me.

“Life has completely changed from being outgoing and successful, this is someone who met the Queen because of what I had achieved and written a book and you know it’s all gone.”

Natalie Finbow from Tharston said she can not work anymore after having a mesh procedure in 2009 after suffering stress incontinence. Picture: Natalie FinbowNatalie Finbow from Tharston said she can not work anymore after having a mesh procedure in 2009 after suffering stress incontinence. Picture: Natalie Finbow

The 53-year-old said she would still be unaware of the procedure if it wasn’t for the Sling the Mesh group and is waiting for a full removal operation of the material.

She said: “It’s like removing chewing gum, it can be stuck to your nerve endings, anywhere and I just want it out now.

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“For a chance to be free of a little bit more pain, I’ve got nothing else left to lose.

Kath Sansom being interviewed by Sky News at Parliament Green in 2017. Sling The Mesh. PHOTO: Harry RutterKath Sansom being interviewed by Sky News at Parliament Green in 2017. Sling The Mesh. PHOTO: Harry Rutter

“The times I’ve gone to the GP saying ‘this pain in my groin area and lower back, it’s horrendous’ and it was always put down to scar tissue because I’ve had so much surgery.

“It’s all inflamed inside and that’s what I live with everyday. Antibiotics all the time because I have infections all the time, really strong pain relief. I’m on so many pills you wouldn’t believe.

“I can’t drive my car because of the medication. I have to rely on everybody, family to take me out, my husband to go shopping.

“All those things that everyone takes for granted that I took for granted, hop in the car and go to work, just been taken away like so many of us.”

Mesh has been used in the pelvis to treat conditions such as stress incontinence and prolapse in women. Picture: Kath SansomMesh has been used in the pelvis to treat conditions such as stress incontinence and prolapse in women. Picture: Kath Sansom

Mrs Finbow said the report is important to suffers like herself in giving them a voice and making them feel that at “last we’re believed.”

She added: “Before we were made to feel it’s in our head, but this has really given us a voice and got it out there.

“Hopefully now no-one will suffer like we’ve all suffered.

“I just want my life back but it’s never going to come back and all these years I’ve lost.”

A pause in mesh procedures for stress urinary incontinence was recommended in 2018 which meant procedures should only be carried out under exceptional circumstances, but the new report said “others could and should have listened and taken action before.”

Guidance in 2003 for mesh for stress urinary incontinence said only experienced surgeons should operate and an audit of numbers of procedures, outcome measures and adverse events should be kept.

But the review revealed “none of this happened consistently.”

It added: “Had it been implemented, it is likely that many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women would have been spared mesh complications.”

The review added an “apology is due” and support is required for those who have suffered avoidable harm, but did not recommend an outright ban.

Baroness Cumberlege said: “I have conducted many reviews and inquiries over the years, but I have never encountered anything like this, the intensity of suffering experienced by so many families, and the fact that they have endured it for decades.

“Much of this suffering was entirely avoidable, caused and compounded by failings in the health system itself.

“We are urging the system to do what it should have done years ago, to help those who have suffered and put in place the processes that will enable it to learn from past mistakes so that we spare other families from such anguish.”

Ms Sansom said: “The report is hard hitting, harrowing and recognises the total failure in patient safety, regulation and oversight in the UK.

“It also makes it very clear that our medical establishment is deeply entrenched in institutional denial and misogyny.

“While we welcome all of the recommendations, there is no glory in knowing thousands of women have been maimed by mesh since the late 1990s then ignored when they asked for help suffering debilitating, life altering and irreversible pain.”

The review team have made a series of recommendations which includes a pelvic floor education should be taught in schools and antenatal classes.


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