sling the mesh  | 

Ulster woman left in constant pain after mesh op calls for audit on those affected by surgery

Susan McLarnon had surgery five years ago
“A lot of women have a lightbulb moment, where they’ve been having problems but haven’t associated them with the surgery,” said Susan

“A lot of women have a lightbulb moment, where they’ve been having problems but haven’t associated them with the surgery,” said Susan

By Roisin Gorman

A Sling the Mesh campaigner has called for an urgent audit of women whose lives have been blighted by the controversial surgery.

Susan McLarnon, who’s been left in constant pain after her op five years ago and further surgery to remove the mesh, says there is already pressure from surgeons to start using the material again.

And without knowing how many women have been permanently damaged by mesh, the government can’t gauge the size of the problem.

The treatment for prolapse and incontinence in women was suspended in 2018 and a report into the devastating injuries it causes was published by Baroness Julia Cumberlege in 2020.

A year on from the landmark report a debate in Westminster last week heard that none of her recommendations had been implemented. She had suggested that an audit should go back at least a decade.

Northern Ireland has a mesh clinic in Belfast City Hospital which has now reopened after its closure due to Covid, but campaigners say women who have been left in constant pain need more than a weekly gynae clinic.

It’s estimated that over 7,000 women in Northern Ireland have had mesh implanted, many without informed consent about the risks. In England over 92,000 women were given mesh implants in the eight years up to March 2015.

The issue has affected so many women it was featured recently on a Casualty storyline when character Bibi discovered her mesh implant had caused a pelvic mass.

Susan says the side effects can sometimes take years to become apparent.

“A lot of women have a lightbulb moment, where they’ve been having problems but haven’t associated them with the surgery,” she says.

“For some of them it’s seven to ten years before problems start, with mesh erosion or constant urinary tract infections or the onset of pain. In my case it was immediate.

“An audit needs to go back further. At the moment the question women are asked is ‘are you dry?’ and if the answer is yes the operation has been a success.”

Women who have contacted the Sling the Mesh group have reported horrifying injuries, including fistulas – an abnormal opening between two parts of the body, bowel punctures, sepsis and having to use stomas. One woman suffered six episodes of sepsis while another has to catheterise herself.

Susan, a mum of five, got her mesh implant alongside surgery for a separate prolapse issue in 2016.

“I was asked did I leak, and I said only when I cough or sneeze,” she said.

“I have been in constant pain ever since, and then I had it removed and I’m in even more pain. The prolapse was fixed and I haven’t had a problem with it but in terms of incontinence I’m worse off now than I was in 2016.”

The use of mesh for pelvic surgery on women was suspended in Northern Ireland in 2018, but it’s still used on hernia patients, hundreds of whom have joined Hernia Mesh NI to highlight the drastic impact it’s had on their lives.

Susan says there are worrying signs that mesh could be used again. Scotland is the only country in the UK which had imposed a ban.

“Surgeons in England are saying they’ve got waiting lists for people to have it done, because it’s an easy fix, it’s an easy 20-minute operation. They would all have to be retrained if they don’t use it.

“They are saying they have patients who want to do it, but the concern is that patients have no idea of what lies ahead.”

The campaigner, whose plans to return to work in advertising and marketing after raising her family were ended by her mesh ordeal, says Scotland has led the way in dealing with the issue.

It’s given mesh patients £1,000 in compensation and just days ago the Scottish government announced it would cover the cost of removing the implants in clinics in England and the US.

Campaigners say the reluctance by governments in the rest of the UK to grasp the recommendations of the Cumberlege Report will leave thousands of women in limbo.

Susan (55) says her life will never be the same again. She had surgery to remove her mesh implant in 2019 and was devastated to discover that it hadn’t all been taken out.

“I can’t stand and cook a meal. I can’t lift boiling water off a stove. My hip can go at any time and I’ve chipped my ankle because I keep falling. I’ve also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

“I walked in for that surgery able-bodied and came out partially disabled.

“But I’ve been told that it’s nothing to do with the operation and more or less that it was all in my head. It makes you question your own sanity,” she says.

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