U.K. Health Secretary Announces Temporary Ban on Pelvic Mesh Repairs – But Use of Hernia Mesh Continues
Last month, the death of a 75-year-old woman in Loanhead, Scotland, was officially attributed to the surgical mesh that had been used to repair her pelvic organ prolapse (PoP). It is the first time that surgical mesh has been listed on an official death certificate as an “underlying cause.”
The demise of Eileen Baxter initiated an inquiry by the Scottish government, and has ultimately resulted in a moratorium on surgical mesh procedures for the treatment of PoP. The ban was announced last week by Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman. In her announcement, Freeman stated that she
“...asked the chief medical officer to instruct health boards to immediately halt the use of transvaginal mesh altogether in cases of both pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence pending the implementation of a new restricted use protocol that will ensure procedures are carried out only in the most exceptional circumstances and subject to a robust process of approval and fully informed consent.”
The use of surgical mesh for hernia repairs was not included in the moratorium. However, Freeman told BBC News that “...these are areas we will continue to keep under review.”
Reactions to Freeman's announcement have been varied. Many believe that the use of surgical mesh should be banned altogether – and that the ban should be permanent. One of them is the late Eileen Baxter's son, Mark. He told a local newspaper: “The underlying cause of my mum’s death was the mesh, that’s what cut through her bowel, that’s what caused the damage – this announcement doesn’t address that.” He added, “My understanding is it’s the product that causes the damage, and it’s barbaric they’re using this material in the first place.”
An activist group, Scottish Mesh Survivors, share Mark Baxter's concerns. Representatives of the organization expressed their disappointment that the use of hernia mesh will continue. When the organization first petitioned the U.K. Parliament, its few members all had undergone pelvic mesh repairs. Today, however, their number includes men and women suffering from hernia mesh complications as well. A spokesperson for the group said, “If we were doing our petition again we would widen it and we would include all mesh [patients].”
On the other side of the world, Australian surgeons are continuing to defend the use of the hernia mesh, claiming complications from the procedure are relatively rare. Dr. Kellee Slater, who chairs Australia's Board in General Surgery, considers it the best option for hernia repair. “The complications with mesh are in the order of 5 per cent, and all of the patients are warned about that before the mesh is put in,” she says, adding that the benefits outweigh the risks. Nonetheless, a growing number of Australians who have had surgical repairs with hernia mesh report horrific suffering from post-operative conditions that include bowel blockage, bladder dysfunction, and severe chronic pain.
In the U.S., there are currently 54,000 lawsuits pending against hernia mesh manufacturers by patients who have suffered serious injuries as the result of surgery with the product.