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'It needs to be stopped': Vaginal mesh patients ask Chief Medical Officer to listen to their stories

The HSE said Dr Holohan’s review will be completed in the coming months but did not confirm whether he would be engaging with patients.

Christine had two surgeries to remove parts of the mesh device and another operate to successfully treat her stress urinary incontinence.
Christine had two surgeries to remove parts of the mesh device and another operate to successfully treat her stress urinary incontinence.

PATIENTS WHO SUFFERED complications after surgeries using transvaginal mesh implants have asked the Chief Medical Officer to engage with them as part of his review of the use of these devices in Ireland.

Thousands of women across the world have reported painful complications after having a mesh implant inserted. These devices, made with polypropylene – a type of plastic – are used in surgeries to address stress urinary incontinence and pelvic prolapse, conditions women can suffer after natural childbirth.

TheJournal.ie first highlighted that women in Ireland were reporting negative side effects from the devices in September last year. Since then, more than 200 patients who claim to have been impacted have joined the support group Mesh Survivors Ireland.

At least 30 of these women are currently pursuing legal action, either against the HSE or their consultants.

In November, Health Minister Simon Harris asked the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to examine the use of transvaginal mesh devices in Ireland.

More than a dozen women who have suffered complications after their surgeries have now written to Holohan asking him to engage with them and consider their experiences as part of his research.

6236 Mesh Survivors Ireland_90535048 (1) Members of the Mesh Survivors Ireland support group protested outside Leinster House in January. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

These complications include chronic pain and recurrent urinary tract infections and have been life-changing in many cases. Some women have reported that the mesh device moved and eroded through the walls of their vaginas, causing pain and resulting in further surgeries to remove sections of the mesh.

Life-changing

60-year-old Christine had her implant inserted in 2009 to treat stress urinary incontinence.

“It was sold to me as a fix in a day, it was supposed to be the gold standard,” she said.

The procedure successfully treated her incontinence, but within months she started to experience pain and urinary tract infections. In 2011 she spoke to a consultant urologist who did a removal surgery.

“He said taking it out could leave me incontinent again and it was shocking, I knew every toilet around Dublin, I had to double up on pads, I was only short of wearing a nappy,” she said.

“I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t walk. I remember one day up at the shop I was talking to a guy, I was wearing doubled up pads, and we were having a bit of a laugh and chatting, and when I came home I was wet down to my knees. It had never been that bad beforehand.”

Christine later had another procedure to fix her incontinence, which involved using  muscle taken from her stomach to hold up her bladder. This operation was one of the preferred options for stress urinary incontinence before mesh slings were introduced as a treatment in Ireland in the late 90s.

She also had a second mesh removal surgery in January 2013, though she said she is not sure all of it has been removed.

20180131_152229 After the second removal surgery, Christine's consultant gave her a piece of the mesh that had been removed from her bladder.

The devices are designed to strengthen the walls of the bladder and natural tissue grows into the mesh. This makes full removal extremely difficult without damage to the surrounding tissue and organs.

Christine still suffers from regular infections.

“I’ve had two already in the last three weeks, and two lots of antibiotics. I’m worried that I’ll end up with sepsis or something like that. I could have an antibiotic every two to three weeks and that’s not good for you.

“It’s very life limiting, it drains you and I have to take to the bed. It’s very unfair.”

Christine has reported her complications to the HPRA and is hoping the Chief Medical Officer will tell surgeons to stop using these devices.

“It needs to be stopped, they can’t continue to do it. Hundreds of women have the same symptoms as I have – that’s not a coincidence.”

‘Extremely concerned’

A number of other countries have stopped using certain mesh devices, and in January the English government launched a retrospective review of all women who had a vaginal mesh surgery since 2015.

The UK’s health watchdog NICE had already recently recommended a ban of one of these devices – the type commonly used to treat pelvic prolapse – advising that doctors only use it for research purposes.

The watchdog said there were “serious but well-recognised safety concerns” around the use of this product.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Health said: “The minister is extremely concerned to ensure that both the current use of transvaginal mesh implants in surgical procedures in Ireland, and the ongoing clinical management of women who have had these procedures in the past, are in line with international best practice”.

“He has requested the Chief Medical Officer to prepare a report for him on the many clinical and technical issues involved. That work is underway and is anticipated to be completed within the coming months. Clearly this will be informed by emerging evidence and the concerns being raised.”

If you’ve been affected by this issue, we want to hear your story. Get in touch at michelle@thejournal.ie.

Read more of TheJournal.ie‘s coverage of the vaginal mesh scandal:

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