It is estimated that about one in 11 women go on to experience problems after a vaginal mesh procedure.
According to NHS data from the Hospital Episodes Statistics, more than 11,500 women had vaginal mesh implants in England between April 2006 and March 2016, which suggests that more than 1,000 women could be suffering as a result of mesh operations.
The BBC recently reported that more than 800 UK women are taking legal action against the NHS and the makers of vaginal mesh implants. If the legal action is a success the NHS could face a compensation pay out that might be in the tens of millions of pounds.
Andrew Taylor, Clinical Negligence specialist and a partner at Birchall Blackburn Law, says: “We’re working with a number of clients who have contacted us following mesh procedures. In most of the cases the medical advice given to the patient by surgeons has been inadequate. Many of the women we’re trying to help were not clearly told about the risks associated with the use of the mesh implants.”
What is a vaginal mesh?
A vaginal mesh is a plastic mesh implant made of polypropylene, which is used to ease incontinence and to support organs such as the vagina, uterus, bowel, bladder or urethra which have prolapsed after childbirth.
There are as many as 100 types of vaginal mesh implants being used in the UK at the moment.
They are a permanent implant. According to the US regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration, once the mesh is implanted it is very difficult to remove. Sometimes it is impossible.
The meshes are prescribed on the NHS across the UK, although a recent review in Scotland said they should not be routinely used for pelvic organ prolapse. In 2014 the Scottish government requested a suspension in their use by the NHS in Scotland, pending a safety review. The suspension was called for after members of the Scottish Mesh Survivors campaign told a Scottish Government committee of the life-changing side effects they had suffered.
There are also other types of implant used to treat the same conditions, including TVT (trans-vaginal tape), TOT (transobturator tape), and SS (suprapubic sling) tape. Adverse side effects are not thought to be as common in these cases.
What are the risks of a mesh implant?
Although The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says the use of vaginal mesh implants is safe and effective for the majority of women, there are serious complications associated with surgical mesh.
According to a study published in the Lancet, women given mesh implants were three times more likely to suffer complications and twice as likely to need follow-up surgery compared to women who had the traditional surgery, where stitches are used to support the organs.
Complications can include:
- Mesh erosion through the vagina (also called exposure, extrusion or protrusion)
- Nerve damage
- Pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Organ perforation
- Urinary complications
There have also been reports of recurrent prolapse, neuro-muscular problems, vaginal scarring and vaginal shrinkage.
Andrew says: “Complications caused by vaginal mesh procedures can be utterly debilitating. Women can experience constant, chronic pain and be forced to live on high-dose painkillers.
“And then there is the emotional impact on the women and the strain on their family and relationships. Some women are unable to have sex, they have been forced to give up their jobs and can’t look after their children because the abdominal or vaginal pain is so crippling.”
Can you claim compensation for vaginal mesh implant?
A person who has suffered a serious injury as a result of an error or omission by a medical professional may be able to take legal action to claim compensation.
Clinical (or medical) negligence is a serious breach of the duty of care that medical professionals ethically and legally owe their patients. The breach of care must have caused or materially contributed to the person’s injury.
MHRA has said statistics did not necessarily indicate a fault with any particular vaginal mesh device and evidence supported the continued use of vaginal mesh surgery for certain conditions. However, a breach of the duty of care can arise if the surgeon does not fully disclose to the patient all the risks associated with the procedure and any alternatives to the treatment.
Other breaches of care could include:
- Failed or negligent surgery
- Post-operative complications
How much compensation can you expect for a vaginal mesh claim?
The amount of compensation a person receives can vary greatly. It will depend on many factors, such as the severity of the physical injuries, psychological and emotional trauma and anxiety, medical expenses incurred, pain and practical impact on the person’s social and financial life, and future care needs.
Depending on the individual’s circumstances some patients will claim compensation for thousands of pounds, while a more severely affected patient will require compensation that can amount to millions of pounds.