Sling The Mesh founder Kath Sansom blogs on the campaign group’s recent protests
A hospital which closed a pelvic mesh removal service without warning, claiming the decision only affects 13 women, has admitted in a meeting with campaigners that in reality it affects 247.
Hospital chiefs went on to describe the move – which was originally presented as a withdrawal of the service – as ‘a pause’ and ‘a paperwork exercise’. They also said the surgeon in question is “first class.”
Sling The Mesh held a rally in London against a decision to stop the mesh removal service of surgeon Suzy Elneil, who has been helping women from around the world for 14 years.
A rally in London and one at the same time in Manchester, was also protesting against new health guidelines that want to reinstate vaginal mesh. The plastic implants were suspended last summer amid an ongoing UK wide safety review.
Kath Sansom, founder of Sling The Mesh, which has more than 7,600 members, said: “Every woman harmed by mesh has been failed by the system. It has gone beyond institutional denial. It is institutional betrayal.
“The Government and NHS are in a complete mesh mess. Now a hospital has shut a major door of hope for mesh removal with a surgeon women trust. Women’s lives have been devastated by mesh and this decision piles on yet more confusion and hurt.”
An initial statement by University College London Hospital said: “This decision was not made lightly. It has affected 13 patients given provisional dates for surgery in May and we deeply regret the distress this has caused this group of patients who are living with a very difficult and complex condition.
“We have written to all of them offering them alternative options, including referral to one of the surgeons in the Urogynaecology and Pelvic Floor Unit.”
However, when grilled after the rally, Tony Mundy, corporate medical director of UCLH, said: “There are 247 on the waiting list. Half are waiting six months or more.
“There’s no question that Suzy Elneil is a first class surgeon,” and he admitted that the pause is to do with a paperwork accreditation exercise by surgeon society BSUG – a group of medics who have historically always been heavily in favour of mesh implants.
The ‘pause’ has nothing to do with the skill or safety of Ms Elneil’s operations, he added.
Mr Mundy also admitted there is no such thing as being “qualified” to do mesh removal, despite an earlier UCLH media statement describing an alternative team to the service offered by Ms Elneil, as being “qualified”.
A Freedom of Information Request by Sling the Mesh reveals that the alternative surgeons, put forward by UCLH, have removed just one to 18 mesh implants each compared to the hundreds removed by Ms Elneil.
There is currently a pelvic mesh crisis in the UK with some women waiting up to two and a half years to have their mesh removed. Four years ago the average wait was six months.
Amongst the 7,600 members of Sling The Mesh are women suffering complications from mesh implants that were meant to treat incontinence or prolapse, problems often caused from having babies. There are also members suffering following hernia mesh operations.
Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “Twenty years after mesh was introduced we still have no understanding of its impact on women’s quality of life, the long-term complications and who has been harmed.”
And he called for a national registry to log mesh complications that: “Starts with the thousands of women who have already had mesh. Vast numbers of patients are informing how to improve healthcare; it’s about time we – the health system – listened.
A UCLH spokesman said: “UCLH is trying to ensure that the service is in a good position to be selected as one of the new specialised services for women with complications of mesh inserted for urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse.
This newly commissioned service will be out to tender shortly, and NHS England will be looking to commission between four and seven centres across the country. We very much want to be one of those centres.”