NHS Sued Over Mesh Implants
The Law Of… putting women's health at risk
The NHS is facing legal action from more than 800 women who have sustained significant injuries due to a 'barbaric' surgery meant to treat post-childbirth problems.
Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner with Simpson Millar, looks at and comments on this developing case.
More Than 800 Women Sue Over Debilitating Implants
Vaginal mesh implants are supposed to make the lives of the women who need them a little bit more comfortable. Used in the treatment of incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse following pregnancy – where one of the organs located in the pelvic region drops, pushing against the vaginal wall – the medical devices are made from polypropylene, a plastic used in the manufacture of some drinks bottles, and fitted inside the abdomen to act as a form of suspension, holding back the prolapsed tissue.
But the number of women who have suffered problems as a result of these implants is on the increase, leading to the 800+ compensation claims being brought against the NHS and various makers of the product, including pharmaceutical leviathan Johnson & Johnson.
According to a 2016 study published in medical journal The Lancet, women who underwent surgery to have a vaginal mesh implant were 3 times more likely to suffer complications than those who received the traditional form of treatment, where stitches are used as support.
Complications have included prolonged, incapacitating pain caused by the mesh cutting into the vagina, the consequences of which have had adverse effects on both the careers and private lives of the women involved – with many unable to continue working or maintain a sex life due to their degree of discomfort. Some have even had to use equipment such as crutches or wheelchairs to aid with mobility, leaving them unable to take care of their families.
Describing the procedure as 'barbaric', Kate Langley, who suffers permanent pain due to her implant, has endured 53 hospital admissions in a bid to end her ordeal. Surgeons have been unable to remove the mesh in its entirety, because of its proximity to the nerve within – an issue that has affected many women, leaving them with no hope of relief.
Others taking legal action have spoken of suicidal tendencies, with one, Claire Cooper, whose own discomfort was initially misdiagnosed as a result of her hysterectomy, saying:
"I wouldn't at all be surprised if there are mesh-injured women that have taken their own lives and didn't know what the problem was."
Ban The Mesh
The vaginal mesh implants continue to be prescribed by the NHS, despite the concerns and pending claims, although calls for the procedure to be banned are gaining some momentum. A Parliamentary debate is planned and Scotland has put a stop to their routine use in cases of pelvic organ prolapse.
Meanwhile in the US, lawsuits against the manufacturers of these products have been flying thick and fast, with one US lawyer, who gave evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee, stating that the dire situation the medical industry has left many women in with regards to what was once considered a 'wonderful invention' is analogous to that of asbestos.
Statistics suggest around 9% of women here in the UK have experienced some kind of issue as a result of their implant, and many involved in the current litigation allege they were not informed of the possible risks prior to surgery.
Should the legal actions prove to be successful, it is believed the NHS could face an overall settlement bill in the region of tens of millions.
"The point to note is that this mesh is known to cut into the vagina causing discomfort, distress and pain, which can leave patients with permanent and debilitating injuries. The emotional and physical impact this has cannot be underestimated and, with the implants being used to treat pelvic prolapse and incontinence following childbirth, the majority of these women are still young."
"What remains to be seen is whether the manufacturers and the NHS can defend their position and prove that the mesh was tested and checked to a standard that determined it fit for purpose and, more importantly, that it works without causing harm."
"We deal with cases involving faulty implants of all sorts and understand what something like this can do to a patient who, via medical advice, is led to believe a certain product will help alleviate their symptoms. When the product does just the opposite, leaving them with permanent health and mental issues, that is when the manufacturers need to be held to account. In all, this is a very sorry state of affairs."
If you have been similarly affected by a vaginal mesh implant, contact Simpson Millar and speak with one of our specialist Medical Negligence team today.