CAMPAIGNERS are up in arms over the government’s new official guidelines on the use of vaginal mesh – claiming that it disregards the agonising experience of thousands of women.
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said that there’s “some evidence of benefit” for using mesh to manage stress urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.
But it also acknowledges that little is known about the potential long-term complications.
NICE recommends that women with these issues first look at non-surgical options – but that doesn’t go far enough, campaigners say.
Labour MP Owen Smith, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Surgical Mesh, said the guidelines “do not go far enough in acknowledging the terrible problems many women have faced following mesh surgery”.
Disregarding women’s experiences
“I am deeply disappointed that the updated guidelines appear to disregard mesh-injured women’s experiences by stating that there is no long-term evidence of adverse effects,” he said.
“Thousands of women have faced life-changing injuries following mesh surgery and they must not be ignored.”
Mr Smith added: “While I am pleased that Nice is now advising against mesh as a first-line treatment for incontinence, the new guidelines fail to clearly outline that mesh should only be used once conservative methods have failed and when non-mesh surgery has failed.
“It is vital that a proper continence care pathway is established, with surgery as a last resort.”
Surgery should be the last resort
Non-surgical options for urinary incontinence include lifestyle changes like reducing the amount of caffeine and fluids consumed, and losing weight.
Pelvic floor muscle training, behavioural therapies for bladder training and medication are all also options.
Pelvic organ prolapse can also be treated without surgery by getting women to avoid any heavy lifting, reducing the risk of constipation, and getting them to do pelvic floor muscle training.
Last year, we reported the story of mum Susan Morgan, who claimed that she’d been left suicidal from her vaginal mesh implant which felt like it was cutting into her internal organs like a “cheese wire”.
Susan says the operation has taken away her career, family and her freedom over the last nine years and she has barely been able to leave her house in Brixham, Devon.
“Nice has ignored us”
Kath Sansom, of campaign group Sling The Mesh, said: “We are appalled that despite political campaigns and the obvious suffering of many women, these guidelines are no different from what was published in 2003.
“They are so weak, they clear the way for the next generation of women to be harmed.
“We told our stories and Nice ignored us.”
The government announced back in July that it was putting a “pause” on mesh operations in England until certain conditions were met.
It isn’t subject to a blanket ban yet but women thinking about having the surgery should try other options first, and be offered six-month follow-up appointment after the op to make sure that there are no issues arising from it.
Any complications are then meant to be logged on a national database.
Last year, hundreds of women allegedly sought legal action against botched vaginal mesh implants which left them unable to walk or have sex without being in severe pain.
Thousands more were reportedly forced to have their implants removed because of complications.
Mesh is still an option for some women
Draft guidelines from health watchdog Nice say the implants should not be used for routine operations.
They can cut into the vagina and women have described constant and horrific pain, leaving them unable to walk, work or have sex
Dr Paul Chrisp, director for the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: “The patient decision-making aids developed by Nice in association with patients, clinicians and professional bodies will ensure every woman who is considering surgery for urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse has the best evidence currently available to inform her of the benefits and risks of each type of procedure.
“It will ensure each woman is able to decide, with the help of her clinician, which option is best for her.
“This might include the decision not to have surgery at all.”
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman said: “We know that for some people mesh has had unwanted and serious consequences.
“Nice’s new guidelines and patient decision aids on managing urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse will help women make more informed choices about their treatment.
“The use of vaginal mesh was paused to ensure that patients receive a high quality and consistent service.
“Mesh will still be a treatment for some women who understand the risks and following discussions with their consultant.”
An independent review of mesh procedures is currently ongoing.
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