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Lesley-Anne Stephens at a protest outside Leinster House by Mesh Survivors Ireland in January. Leah Farrell/
medical care

Health Minister agrees to meet with women affected by vaginal mesh complications

There have been thousands of reports internationally of painful complications from women who have undergone these procedures.

THE MINISTER FOR Health and Chief Medical Officer have agreed to meet with women who have suffered complications after surgeries using vaginal mesh devices.

Vaginal mesh devices are used in surgeries to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic prolapse, conditions women can suffer after natural childbirth. There have been thousands of reports internationally of painful complications from women who have undergone these procedures.

This includes a number of Irish women, some of whom have spoken to in the last year about their recurrent urinary infections and pain after the operations.

  • Margaret Byrne said the mesh tape used in her procedure migrated and cut through her vagina. She had to undergo a number of further procedures to correct the problem.
  • Lesley-Anne Stephens had the procedure when she was 36 – now at 39 she has to use a walking stick for support.
  • 48-year-old Janet Roche has been told that she will probably have chronic pain for the rest of her life.

Just this week Byrne won the Eir/Age Action Silver Surfer Award, in part for her online campaigning for herself and other women who suffered these complications.

Marc O'Sullivan Marc O'Sullivan


‘Unexplained pelvic pain’

Media coverage of these stories promoted Health Minister Simon Harris last year to order a report into the use of vaginal mesh devices in Ireland by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan.

Since then, campaigners from the Mesh Survivors Ireland support group have been appealing to the Minister and CMO to meet with them as part of this review process, to hear about their experiences.

mesh woman Campaigners were invited to give a presentation to TDs in Leinster House in January. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

This week solicitor Melanie Power, who set up the group, told that Harris and Holohan have now agreed to meet with her and a number of impacted women next month.

Among the issues she will raise is the need for the HSE to invest in specialised equipment called a ‘translabial scanner’, which will show internally whether the device has moved or started to degrade.

The HSE has previously said this equipment is not needed to assess migration, but it is being used by professionals in the UK and is also due to be introduced in Belfast. Power said making this scan available for Irish women would not cost a lot of money.

“The awful thing about this is that the scan is in every maternity hospital already. All we need is a different head on the scanner, most of the equipment is already here and they’d need to train up a sonographer in reading it,” she said.

A number of the women in the support group have travelled to the UK and paid the more than €400 for the scan themselves.

“Many ladies are baffled by what’s actually going on with them. They are being diagnosed with unexplained pelvic pain and recurrent urinary tract infections and told that’s just the menopause so they’ll have to get on with it, and they’re just being sent for pain management.

There are ladies who have had addiction issues because they’ve been on the pain medication for so long and some of them can no longer have any form of pain management because of that addiction.

Earlier this year the NHS in Britain launched an audit and the findings published this week show surgeons performed at least 500 removal operations each year for vaginal mesh and tape implants since April 2008.

The majority of these removals were after a procedure to treat stress urinary incontinence, which has up until now been considered the least risky operation using mesh devices.

Most of the vaginal mesh products used in the NHS were launched without any clinical trials. Campaigners in Ireland have said the same devices were used here.

“We need to suspend their use until we actually know what is going on,” Power said.

“It’s been 20 years of experimentation with this device and they haven’t been tracking it. They need to go back and find out what the evidence is and then make an informed decision if it should continue and on what basis it should be allowed.”

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