As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a Backbench Business Debate on Surgical Mesh on behalf of the Opposition.
In her speech, Sharon shared her mam's personal experiences of mesh and called on the Government to suspend the use of surgical mesh to ensure that no more lives are affected.
You can read the full debate here: Surgical Mesh
You can watch Sharon's speech here on Parliament TV: Surgical Mesh
You can read Sharon's speech here:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for securing this important debate and for her passionate speech. Like me, she has been shocked and horrified by the stories we have heard from men and women who have had their lives turned upside down because of surgical mesh. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who spoke with such passion and knowledge. He was campaigning with the all-party group on surgical mesh implants long before I even came across it, and I am grateful for his contribution and continued leadership.
I thank all Members who have spoken in this excellent debate: the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady); the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis); my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya); the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster); and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) spoke for the Scottish National party with such knowledge, and it was a privilege to be in the Chamber to hear her speech. I thank them all for their thoughtful contributions, and I thank their constituents who have allowed their experiences to be shared with us today. It has been distressing to hear their stories and I sympathise with anyone affected by surgical mesh.
Finally, I thank Kath Sansom, who leads the Sling the Mesh campaign, and who I know is watching from the Gallery, for all her hard work in uniting the women affected by vaginal mesh implants and raising awareness of the tragic impact that they have had on so many lives. I thank everyone who is part of that campaign for everything that they do to raise awareness and support women.
After the Westminster Hall debate in October last year, and the media coverage that followed, more women came forward as victims when they realised that the mesh was causing their additional health problems. I am very sorry to say that my 73-year-old mam was one of them. She likes to watch my debates and speeches, as do all our mams, I am sure. When she was at mine one Saturday, while I made lunch, I sat her down to watch some of the speeches that I had made that week. There she was with my iPad: I put on the Westminster Hall debate, it started to play, and I said, “I’m so pleased you haven’t had anything like this done.”
You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, over the past four to five years my mam has been back and forward to the doctors with loads of health issues, from IBS to constant urinary infections, and from stabbing pains in her groin to pain walking and trouble sleeping because of pain and twitching in her legs—and more. It has been never-ending. She said, “I’ve turned 70 and I’m falling to pieces.” She has had cameras everywhere, which is not always pleasant and can be very uncomfortable, but all to no avail. No diagnosis or solution has ever been found. With that background knowledge, the House can imagine my horror when she said, “Oh, no, I just had some tape put in to stop the leaking when I coughed and sneezed!” I had no idea that she had had that done.
As the hon. Member for Torbay said, sometimes women—even your mam—do not like to talk about these things. When I asked her why she had never mentioned it, she said, “Oh, it was quick—I was in and out on the same day. And you’re always so busy, so I just didn’t mention it.” It had not even occurred to her that there could be a connection between what she had been going through for the past four or five years and this procedure that she had had done five years earlier.
As the House can imagine, I went into panic mode, because although we are talking about mesh today, surgeons use many different names for it—tape, ribbon and sling are the more patient-friendly ones. I am also told that they now like to use the phrase “Don’t worry—it’s not the mesh that they talk about in the media.” Surgeons must be absolutely clear with their patients what treatment they are about to receive and address any concerns that they might have, instead of talking about the success of the majority or dismissing those concerns outright.
After the sudden realisation, all my mam’s symptoms over the years suddenly began to make sense and could be attributed directly to the mesh. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the help of the fabulous Kath Sansom, my mam is now armed with all the facts and arguments to take to her GP and surgeon. She has done that and is on the long road to getting reversal surgery, if that is the best option for her. She has also had to come to terms with the fact that she may never be the same again, with the associated guilt that she agreed to the procedure. She trusted the medical profession to do her no harm.
My mam is lucky at the moment, compared with some of the other cases we have heard about today, which she recognises. A Sling the Mesh survey found that more than 78% of patients have pain when walking and sitting; 69% of women have pain that prevented intercourse; more than 60% of patients suffer with anxiety and depression because of the mesh and the symptoms that it causes; and almost 54% suffer with nerve damage. I have seen the piles of medication and medical equipment that some women have to use on a daily basis to try to live a life with a bit of dignity. Before the mesh, these were fit, healthy and, in some cases, young women, as we have heard. Now they need assistance to do simple things such as tie their shoe laces, pick up their children, or even use the toilet. Some have lost their sex lives, their marriage or their job. This is a tragedy for these women and their families. The effects of mesh have been so unbearable that, I am sad to say, some women have tried to end their own lives. Innovative and effective treatments should not do this to patients, and the Government must not stand idly by while women suffer in pain like this. The Opposition continually urge NHS England and NICE to act immediately to update the guidance before 2019—as we have all said—and to suspend the use of vaginal mesh.
The Government’s “Retrospective Review for Vaginal Prolapse and Stress Urinary Incontinence using Tape or Mesh”, published just two days ago, is a first step in understanding the sheer scale of the number of women affected by this scandal. Unfortunately, the effects of mesh are hidden within the document—it takes a bit of a numbers expert to be able to work their way through it. So hidden and complex is the review that, on Tuesday, the Minister in the other place announced that he was giving his expert a month to work it out. I will be waiting with bated breath for that analysis.
It is clear that the review fails to show up all the women who have been treated with mesh in the UK. It shows only the number of women treated in England on the NHS, meaning that patients treated in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and patients treated privately in England, were not included. The audit does not include the sheer number of women who have gone back and forward to their GP for pain relief or antibiotics but who have not yet been referred to a consultant, or even those women who have not yet even made the connection and considered that mesh could be the problem, as was the case with my mam. Why were those women missed out? What is the Minister doing to ensure that their concerns are heard and that they are counted in the numbers?
When the audit was announced, I called for a suspension of the use of mesh while it was carried out. As the hon. Members for Totnes and for Glasgow North West and others have mentioned in their contributions, medical devices do not undergo any clinical trials or rigorous evaluation in this country. If ever there were a case to prove that that needs to change, it is surgical mesh.
As I have said, and as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned, if this were a car, an aircraft or even a washing machine or a dryer that was malfunctioning and causing life-changing harm in 10% to 15% of cases, its use would be stopped and the product recalled immediately while the problem was investigated. It would not even need to be as high as that, or even the 1% to 3% that was referred to—just a handful of incidents triggers a recall.
The suspension did not happen, so will the Minister please tell the House in her response how many women have had a mesh implant while the audit took place? Does she know how many women since March 2017 have been treated with a mesh implant or had mesh removed, as the audit went up to only March 2017—a year ago? These newly mesh-implanted women may not have any symptoms now, or if they do they will not necessarily realise that the mesh is to blame, but they may do so in a few years’ time.
Since the Westminster Hall debate last year, the audit and the wider medicines and medical devices safety review, patients who have been treated with surgical mesh—not specifically vaginal mesh—have come to feel that their experiences and concerns are not being considered by the Government. Obviously, I include men in that category. The majority of hernia mesh operations are successful. However, complications can leave patients in chronic pain, which patients were not warned about.
According to NHS data, 10% of people who have had hernia mesh fitted go back to their clinician at some point after their surgery. The former surgeon Peter Jones says that the risks of using hernia mesh are so bad that he himself would not take the risk. Will the Minister respond to the concerns of patients who have been harmed by surgical mesh and elaborate specifically on what the Government are doing to review the harm caused by all surgical mesh—not just vaginal mesh?
Let me repeat my calls to the Government once again: the use of surgical mesh must be suspended and NICE must bring forward its review. A simple, quick and cheap operation has turned far too many patients’ lives upside down. We must stop playing Russian roulette with these patients’ lives. It really is time to sling the mesh.