The Vaginal Mesh Scandal: Why Hundreds Of Women Are Suing Over Treatment

NHS figures show one in 15 women fitted with the vaginal mesh implants will require surgery to extract it

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Let's start the beginning. What the hell is a vaginal mesh implant? If you've never given birth, there's a high chance you'll have no knowledge of this fairly common procedure.

The implants are used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence after childbirth, and are less invasive than traditional surgical approaches.

A plastic mesh is inserted into the vagina, or vaginal wall, and left there to help support the womb.

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'This allows the angle between the urethra and the bladder to be a better shape to allow the woman to be continent rather than incontinent,' consultant gynecologist and obstetrician Dr Amed Ismail, from Queensway Gynecology Clinic, told The Huffington Post UK.

According to a 2012 government report, the procedure is performed on about 15,000 women in the UK per year. For the majority of women, the operation is successful, but concerns are increasingly mounting over large numbers of patients suffering severe complications.

New NHS figures show that one in every 15 women fitted with the vaginal mesh implant in the past ten years has had it removed. These figures only contribute to the growing controversy around the use of vaginal mesh, after the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show revealed in April that more than 800 women are suing either the NHS or the device manufacturers, after experiencing complications.

In other words, the problems are much more widespread than previously acknowledged.

At the moment, according to the Independent, 500 patients in Britain are embroiled in legal action against mesh manufacturers, and up to 2,000 are planning to sue.

The side effects can range from chronic pain and loss of sexual function, to major complications like the implant protruding, and bursting, through the bladder or bowels.

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Complications are usually caused by the mesh eroding and breaking down into smaller pieces, which can potentially move around in the body. To remove one fully can require hours of surgery and can risks damage to nerves and nearby organs.

Senior doctors are referring to it as the most serious women's health scandal since thalidomide - the 'risk-free' sedative designed to combat morning sickness in pregnant women that led to a dramatic global spike in the birth of deformed babies in the late 1950s.

Many women who've experienced problems have spoken out about experiencing intense pain, sometimes leaving them unable to walk, work or have sex.

Carolyn Churchill, 57, told the Guardian she was 'in absolute agony, but [the doctors] wouldn't listen to me and made me feel like some sort of baby, and that it was normal.'

'If I could have walked to the A&E that night, I would've begged them to take it out.'

Churchill underwent the procedure because she was 'bothered' by stress incontinence, which affects roughly 10% of women. She experienced 'ripping, burning' pains in her side and legs, and the soles of her feet often went numb.

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She was 'horrified' to discover the mesh had eroded the wall of her vagina.

The doctors, she says, were reluctant to blame the mesh implant and instead offered her hip X-rays, physiotherapy - 'which made the pain worse' - and mental health counselling.

In 2015, Kath Sansom, a journalist and campaigner, had the procedure to treat occasional stress incontinence. Severe symptoms began to kick in 10 weeks after, including constant pain in her legs, feet, groin and private parts 'burning so badly it's like someone has poured a bottle of chilli sauce inside it,' she told The Independent.

If I could have walked to the A&E that night, I would've begged them to take it out

'For some women the mesh literally slices clean through their vaginal walls – so not only does that hurt, but it cuts their partners during sex. Want to know what surgeons give to try and fix this? Ovestin cream – what a joke.'

Sansom started the Sling the Mesh campaign to try and raise awareness about the risks involved in what is perceived as a common practise procedure. The mesh treatment has been the centre of a suspicion and controversy after NHS meeting minutes, obtained by the Press Association from 2016, revealed bosses plotted to 'avoid media attention' about potential complications.

When the minutes were published, authorities were accused of covering up the real risks of treatment.

The whole thing stinks of sexism and a devaluation of both a woman's comfort and sexual fulfilment.

If the sexual desires or genitalia functioning of hundreds of men was being affected by a medical procedure, would said procedure still be in use by the NHS? Highly doubtful.

'I think the government should take responsibility,' says Churchill. 'When there was all the problems with breast implants they stood up and said it would never happen again. And all that time, it was already happening to thousands of us. I want someone to stand up and say sorry for what they've done to us.'

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