The UK’s “unresponsive and defensive” healthcare system has failed thousands of women who developed life-changing conditions after pelvic mesh surgery, according to a review into the treatment.
“The report is hard hitting, harrowing and recognises the total failure in patient safety, regulation and oversight in the UK,” Kath Sansom of campaign group Sling the Mesh said in a statement.
The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, led by Julia Cumberlege and announced by then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2018, has involved two years of data gathering from women who received vaginal and other pelvic mesh implants, mostly to treat stress urinary incontinence and prolapse that developed after childbirth.
Many women went on to develop chronic pain, nerve damage, bowel conditions, recurring infections and mobility issues, among others. The mesh can become embedded in surrounding tissues, making it very difficult to remove. The review found that it is unclear whether the mesh can change in shape or size after it is implanted, and whether chemicals from the mesh can trigger immune conditions, which have been experienced by some women.
The number of women affected by these complications is unknown, but thousands have joined support and campaign groups. Many women weren’t told about the risks of the procedure, and describe how their symptoms and complaints were dismissed by doctors as normal consequences of childbirth or menopause, says the review.
“The narrative is common,” says Sohier Elneil, a urogynaecologist and uroneurologist in London, who says she comes across similar cases on a daily basis. “Patient safety must be key to everything we do,” she says. “It should be a given, but, quite clearly from the report, it hasn’t been.”