The UK government has launched an official audit, following pressure from an all-parliamentary group on surgical mesh implants, to examine how many women are being affected by life-changing side effects of transvaginal mesh (TVM) implants to determine whether the UK and the NHS should follow New Zealand’s lead and ban the use of TVM for all gynaecological procedures.
The National Institute for Care and Excellence (NICE) have also advised the use of TVM implants be halted after their research showed up to 40% of women who have the mesh implanted suffer severe side effects. They state that the research into the long-term efficacy of the implant is “inadequate in quantity and quality”.
The Problems with Vaginal Mesh
NHS figures show that over 100,000 UK women have had vaginal mesh surgery to treat urinary incontinence – common post pregnancy or post menopause – in the last decade. Official guidelines on TVM surgery suggest that the complication rate from the surgery is between 3-5%. However, recent research suggests that this number is much too low and in fact, the complication rate for this type of procedure is between 10 and 15%. An investigation by The Guardian found that 1 in 15 women who had vaginal mesh surgery later require partial or full removal of their implant.
Side effects reported from TVM implants range from mild pain and discomfort to life-changing problems. Sufferers report bleeding, infection, nerve damage and pain. Other women report vaginal scarring, vaginal shrinkage caused by scarring and painful sexual intercourse. Often women have found that the vaginal mesh has perforated the vaginal wall or other organs resulting in extreme pain with some women finding themselves unable to walk or sit without being in agony.
In cases of extreme pain, infection and perforation the TVM will need to be removed. However, this is a much more invasive procedure and requires great skill as the mesh will have become bonded with skin cells. Often, surgeons are forced to remove the mesh piece by piece and over several different surgeries, which is traumatic for the patient and requires a lot more recovery time and carries several risks whilst operating. It is important that any patient considering TVM implants is made full aware of all the potential risks.
The Cost of the Scandal
Johnson & Johnson and their subsidiary company Ethicon, are currently being sued by thousands of patients in America and Australia after it emerged that their vaginal mesh product had not been clinically tested before being released to the market. The BBC’s Panorama uncovered that Ethicon had been also keeping the real risk rates a secret from doctors. A patient in the United States was awarded a landmark $57m after her TVM left her unable to walk.
During the case, the court heard that directors at Ethicon attempted to suppress damaging research which showed that their latest product, launched in 2006, had a lower success rate than their previous product which it was replacing. Despite this data, and the fact that the mesh was only tested on 31 women and a few animals, Ethicon and Johnson & Johnson released the mesh on the market and it was implanted into thousands of women. Now women all over the world are looking to sue after suffering agonising side effects of the mesh implant.