Hundreds of women in Northern Ireland are struggling with the crippling effects of a simple day surgery despite assurances it would improve their quality of life.
Mesh implants designed to give a permanent support to internal organs and damaged tissue, have been the cause of life-changing pain and devastation for around 500 women locally.
Their surgeries were carried out to treat stress incontinence, hernia and prolapse but the women say they have instead been left sick, depressed and in excruciating pain, their lives ruined.
Sling The Mesh campaigners are fighting for women to have class treatment to remove the implants by experienced surgeons with a proven track record in Northern Ireland.
And they also want the procedure stopped so no other woman risks what they are suffering.
The issue is being raised in House of Lords today.
An average of 700 mesh operations have been carried out annually in Northern Ireland for the last decade.
And at least 500 women have come forward for help from the local Sling The Mesh support group, with woman as young as 37 struggling with every day life as a result of side effects of the surgery.
They describe suffering:
- excruciating pain in the legs, groin, back and buttocks,
- repeated and sometimes continual infections,
- abdominal pain,
- difficulty or inability to urinate,
- loss of leg and back strength,
- pain during normal activities including sex,
- loss of sex life,
- erosion of the mesh into the bladder or bowel,
- protrusion of the mesh into the vaginal wall causing injuries to sexual partners,
- infection or irritation in the area,
- pelvis or blood vessel injury,
- recurrence of prolapse,
- perforation of the bowel,
- skin rashes,
- depression, and
- dependency of daily catheters and painkillers.
And not only do many women still suffer with the incontinence they felt assured they would be cured by surgery, mesh operations are STILL being carried out in hospitals in Northern Ireland.
Yvonne McIntosh, 58, from Newtownabbey , had the surgery in 2013 but she says it ruined her life.
Mesh implanted to her has eroded into her vagina affecting both her health and her husband’s, leaving them unable to enjoy a physical love life ever since.
Now Yvonne is on a list with a UK specialist in England in the hope she will be able to have the sling removed so the pain and distress she has been suffering comes to an end.
She said: “I trusted the sling would work for me to treat mild incontinence because the surgeon assured me it would. I trusted her. I wish I have never gone for help. I would have managed without surgery. The situation I’ve been left in is beyond awful.
“I cannot sit, stand or even lie down comfortably. My husband and I have not been able to be intimate for years because he gets injured by the sling inside me.
“My emotional health has been devastated. I can feel the sling inside me and I often have to push it back up inside me to be able to walk.
“And even then I have what feels like electrical shocks going through my left leg and I suffer neuralgic pain all the time.
“I suffer repeated infections. The material the sling is made from is like cheese wire and it is working its way through the tissue inside my body.
“I’m angry and feel worn down but I’m still going to fight and help other woman who have been butchered with mesh and slings.
“I would urge the professionals to stop using them and the public to stop accepting them. Women have to stop being abused in this way.”
Arlene Simmons, 66, from Larne, Co Antrim , says her life has changed dramatically when she had her surgery.
Now she is waiting to have her mesh removed but has been told it is such a delicate operation it can be likened to removing individual hairs from chewing gum.
She said: “I had surgery in 2002 to deal with an incontinence problem but the side effects of the surgery have been horrendous and have changed my life forever. I will never get back to being the person I was before.
“The pain and distress I’ve suffered both physically and mentally have been dreadful, the upset my loved ones have felt for me has been awful and the fact that so many medical people have fobbed us off about the problems around mesh implants is appalling.
“Apart from the years of pain and the inability to get about physically, I also suffer from a horrible skin condition called lichen planus which covers my legs and back and is very sore and itchy. It is an inflammatory condition and appeared after my surgery.
“It is classed as an inflammatory condition. Suzy Elneil, who is considered the UK expert on mesh removal, is convinced it is linked to my mesh.
“I was suffering from stress incontinence and was referred by my GP to a private clinic in Belfast and was told by a surgeon that he could fix the situation and he suggested using a tape method.
“He also discovered cysts on one of my ovaries which was bleeding. He decided that it would be best to remove the ovaries followed by the bladder repair around six weeks later.
“The first operation took place but when I woke from surgery there were problems with the bladder and a discussion that the tape may be too tight and I might have to be taken back to theatre to loosen it.
“However before that decision became necessary I developed a haematoma between my bladder and bowel. I then had further surgery to try to rectify the problems.
“I was told by the surgeon that the haematoma was a ‘wee bruise’, and I thought it strange that I had to have further surgery to fix a wee bruise.
“When the catheter was eventually removed I had great difficulty emptying my bladder and the nurses had to resort to using a catheter to empty my bladder.
“I was told I couldn’t be discharged until I had passed urine on my own and learning to self-catheterise was discussed but I refused to consider it.
“Eventually by trial and error I found that I could go to the toilet when in a standing position but it was extremely painful like passing glass.
“I also developed an infection after the removal of the haematoma and had to be given antibiotics via intravenous drip.
“At my six week review I was still having problems going to the toilet.
“I was referred back and forth for tests and was suffering one infection after another. I was ultimately prescribed medication for a sensitive bladder, and I just got on with it.
“When having intercourse with my husband it was painful for us both, and we both suffered from repeated infections.
“Each time we had intercourse my husbands penis would be red and sore and I would develop an infection.
“We discussed our problems and realised we were actually passing the infections to each other and reluctantly decided to call a halt to our sex life.
“The operation did help with my stress incontinence but the urge incontinence and irritable bladder have never gotten any better. Now I find that most of the time I have no sense of needing to go to the loo until it’s too late.
“When I do feel the need to pass urine it is normally because I have an infection and my stress incontinence has also now returned.
“My symptoms are many and varied at times I can’t empty my bladder and other times I am soaking wet.
“I have no control and it is completely unpredictable. Usually I have to get up a couple times a night to change myself and or the bed.”
A year ago Arlene saw a locum at her doctor’s surgery for another infection and experienced a moment of clarity about her issues.
She said: “I told her I had been incontinent since my operation for the mesh and she said I needed to be seen by someone else to check that there were ‘no bits floating about’.”
A scan Arlene had in England identified issues with her mesh despite being told in Northern Ireland that there was no problem with it.
Today Arlene has been given Extra Contractual Referral for mesh complication, one of just six in Northern Ireland, and will be travelling to England in the hope of assessment and successful mesh removal in June.
She said: “I would not advise women to undergo the mesh procedure. Dealing with it has been horrendous and this has been going on for me for 15 years with medial professionals fobbing me off with diagnosis such as fibromyalgia.
“I will never get back to my old self. My confidence has been decimated. The whole situation has been deeply emotional and there were times I wished I could go to sleep and never wake up. I was lucky to have a good and loving husband and family.”
Jackie Harvey who runs the Northern Ireland Sling The Mesh campaign said: “It really is atrocious that the medical professionals just don’t do the right thing and just stop putting mesh and tapes in women. This stuff shrinks and moves inside the body, taking tissue with it, cutting through and inserting itself into tissue and organs. I believe this is a ticking time bomb and we will see so much more carnage in years to come.”
For more information click here . Or request to join the private Northern Ireland Sling The Mesh group on Facebook.
Information on mesh and sling implants from the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board is available here .
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