The campaign for justice on surgical mesh will go on
Despite initial resistance, the pressure brought to bear by campaigners on surgical mesh has led to good results. But every achievement we have marked has brought to light other goals to fight for, writes Emma Hardy
Mesh surgery is a medical procedure used to treat incontinence and prolapse in women, frequently used for new mothers. The surgery, which usually takes less than half an hour, involves inserting a plastic mesh into the vagina to support the bladder, womb or bowel. It was sold to many women as a quick and easy fix to their problems.
Some estimates predict that between 10 and 20 per cent of people are injured by the procedure. Here are some other shocking statistics about the operation:
- 4 in 5 women injured by surgical mesh suffer life changing pain.
- 1 in 3 women injured by surgical mesh have had to give up work.
- Only 3 in 20 women who received treatment with surgical mesh were warned of the risks.
I led a Westminster Hall debate last October to raise the issue with the government. In that debate, we asked the government to do four things, these were:
- Commit to a full retrospective and mandatory audit of all interventions using mesh followed by a full public enquiry.
- Suspend prolapse and incontinence mesh operations while the audit is being carried out.
- Bring forward the NICE guidelines for mesh in stress related urinary incontinence from 2019 to 2018.
- Commit to raising awareness of the issue with doctors and patients alike.
Despite initial resistance from the government, the pressure that the Surgical Mesh APPG has put on has led to some really good results. In December, NICE issued new guidance ruling that evidence for the long-term efficacy of the treatment for Pelvic Organ Prolapse is “inadequate in quality and quantity”. While the NHS is not compelled to act on these guidelines, it will amount to a de facto ban. Then in January, the Government caved in to demands for a national audit on surgical mesh and in February came the announcement of the Cumberlege review into how the NHS addressed concerns about vaginal mesh devices.
Yet every achievement we have marked has brought to light other goals to fight for. Mesh has not yet been completely suspended and it remains possible for doctors to use it, especially in the case of Stress Urinary Incontinence. The audit ordered by Jeremy Hunt looks only at NHS hospital figures and misses off private patients and outpatients. There is also still no physiotherapy available as standard for new mothers, like there is in France, to stop these problems before they even arise.
And even if we were to suspend mesh, investigate every patient – public and private – and offer physio to all new mothers, we would still have the absolute scandal that these devices were aggressively marketed to doctors and then used in patients for whom they were unsuited. To stop this, we must have a Sunshine Payment Act, as there is in America, which lists all industry funding, sponsorship or grants received by GPs and surgeons to stop such aggressive marketing not just with mesh, but with all medical products in future.
And so, it seems our campaign continues. But when it seems difficult, I read the stories of those women who have suffered from their mesh inflicted injuries and remember, in particular, the woman who first brought it to my attention. She was advised to have the mesh fitted in her 30s after suffering incontinence following the birth of twins. The impact it has had on her quality of life is devastating. I remember listening to her telling me about this life changing experience and being completely shocked and horrified. It is for this woman, and others like her, that I will rise to speak this Thursday.
Emma Hardy is Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. Her backbench business debate on surgical mesh is on Thursday 19 April
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