A campaigning journalist who has fought to ban an operation which left her a “physical wreck” says she is “appalled” by new guidelines on the procedure.
Cambs Times journalist Kath Sansom, left, has hit out at “weak” new guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on the subject of mesh implants for women encountering bladder problems after childbirth.
Last year the government suspended the controversial treatment for women thanks to Kath’s Sling The Mesh drive.
But now she has shared her despair after NICE today (Tuesday 2) published updated clinical guidelines, which Kath claims are “no different” from those published 16 years ago.
Said Kath: “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. The whole process has been a total whitewash.
“We told our stories and NICE ignored us. NICE also ignored important scientific evidence showing mesh risk is at least 1 in 10 suffering, by deliberately omitting a key study of NHS figures.
“Our Sling The Mesh survey shows 1 in 20 women have attempted suicide and more than half have regular suicidal thoughts because of chronic pain, loss of sex life, constant infections and auto immune disease.
“These are unacceptable risks from what is sold to women as a simple fix. If a men’s operation was creating this level of harm it would have been stopped a long time ago.”
Labour MP Owen Smith, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Surgical Mesh Implants, has backed Kath in her criticism.
He said: “The APPG has for years called on NICE to update its guidelines on stress urinary incontinence and while I am pleased it has finally listened, the new guidelines do not go far enough in acknowledging the terrible problems many women have faced following mesh surgery.
“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. Thousands of women have faced life-changing injuries following mesh surgery and they must not be ignored.
“It is worrying that the new guidelines disagree with NICE guidance of December 2017 on pelvic organ prolapse, which stated mesh should only be used for research purposes. I cannot understand why NICE appears to have effectively lifted its ban on mesh for prolapse, and I have serious concerns that as a result, women undergoing mesh surgery for prolapse may not be aware of the potential risks.
“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.
“It is imperative that the new guidelines do not undermine the important work currently being undertaken by Baroness Cumberlege’s Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, which is due to report later this year. While this is ongoing and until the safety of mesh can be proven, it must remain suspended.”
The guidelines for urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse recommends that women should use decision aids to reach an informed decision about their care.
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.
“Where surgical mesh/tape could be an option, there is almost always another intervention recommended in our guideline, which does not involve surgical mesh/tape. If a surgeon cannot provide a full range of choices to the woman, then she should be referred to one who can. Surgeons must also record any intervention using surgical mesh/tape in a national database.”