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Vaginal mesh – one of the biggest medical scandals of our time?

Posted: 09/08/2017

Over the past few months, there have been daily reports in the media of various brave women who have come forward to talk about how their lives have been changed forever by the use of vaginal mesh or transvaginal tapes.

With some calling it one of the most serious medical scandals of our time, there have been calls for a public inquiry.

Lawyers at Penningtons Manches are glad to see that this issue is being discussed more in the media and for it to be gaining the coverage it deserves - but is it being talked about enough? Possibly not.

Emma Beeson, an associate in the firm’s clinical negligence team, who is dealing with a number of claims relating to the use of vaginal mesh and transvaginal tapes, explains why she feels these cases are still not getting enough exposure: “Unfortunately, this is something that many people are still afraid to talk about. They feel that there is a stigma around  incontinence and prolapse. But they are perfectly normal issues and they happen to millions of women around the world. It’s time we started being more open about them.”


This is where a pelvic organ such as the womb or bladder drops from its normal position. It can push against the wall of the vagina or can sometimes protrude out from the vagina. This happens because the muscles which hold those organs in place become weak or stretched, and often occurs following childbirth.

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder when it comes under stress. It happens because the pelvic floor muscles which support the bladder become weak. Again, this often occurs after childbirth but can be due to other factors.

Emma notes: “I have been humbled to see how many brave women have come forward to talk about what they have been through but there are probably hundreds, if not thousands more, who continue to suffer in silence.

“I hope that by raising awareness of this issue further,  other women who may have been too afraid to talk before will come forward and seek the help they need.”

Last month, NHS England published a report called the ‘Mesh Oversight Group Report’. This examined vaginal mesh implants used to treat both stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

The conclusion of the report that the use of mesh to treat these issues is a safe option has caused outcry with some campaigners who believe that it has failed to consider all the relevant data. Some have pointed to the fact that the data on side effects does not deal with complications and issues reported to GPs as well as hospitals.

In a number of the cases which Penningtons Manches has dealt with, there has been evidence of GPs not understanding the nature of the problems that women have reported after their surgery and why the pain or complications could be linked to the surgery. Women are frequently misdiagnosed and not sent back to hospital for further investigations.

The report is also criticised for not dealing with one of the most common complications of the procedure which is discomfort during sexual intercourse. This is something that seems to be downplayed frequently as not being a serious side effect, despite it being a significant problem. In numerous cases, patients’ relationships have been destroyed by their inability to be intimate with their partner.

The report does contain three key recommendations:

  • consent – women should be aware of the pros and cons of the treatment option. They need to understand what they are agreeing to;
  • quality of care – the surgical practice of those performing the procedure should be improved and there should be better access to clinical expertise for women who have post-operative problems;
  • recording data – more accurate recording of incidences of complications is required to help both patients and doctors understand the risks.

It should be remembered that some women have had a positive experience of these procedures. They have cured incontinence and/or a prolapse which caused them significant discomfort and affected their daily lives.

However, for many, they have had a devastating impact and created complications that they were never made aware of. Patients were simply informed of a procedure that would be a quick fix with little risk or complication.
For those who believe they may have received poor care in relation to a transvaginal tape or vaginal mesh procedure, Emma Beeson sets out some helpful points to consider:

  • there is a time limit for bringing a clinical negligence claim. This is three years from the date of the negligent act unless you can show that you did not become aware of the fact that you had suffered a significant injury as a result of negligence until a later date;
  • if you feel that you are within this time limit, then the next things to consider are:
    • were you properly advised of the risks associated with the procedure?
    • were you made aware of the alternatives to the procedure?
    • were you advised about conservative treatment such as pelvic floor physiotherapy?
    • did you undergo urodynamic studies to assess your incontinence and confirm it was appropriate to perform the procedure?
    • do you have any concerns about how the procedure was performed?”

If you have questions or worries relating to any of these issues, you can contact Penningtons Manches’ specialist gynaecological and urogynaecological team on 0800 328 9545.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP