Campaign against controversial medical procedure steps up

Barry And District News: CAMPAIGN: Jemima Williams, Sarah-Jane Richards and Dennis Williams CAMPAIGN: Jemima Williams, Sarah-Jane Richards and Dennis Williams

THE CAMPAIGN for action against a controversial surgical procedure that is going unchecked and leaving thousands of women's lives in ruins has taken a step forward.

After what she describes as "12 years of living hell", surgical mesh patient and campaigner Jemima Williams, of Griffin Close, Barry has teamed up with a solicitor who specialises in harmful products to lobby Welsh Assembly Health Minister Mark Drakeford into creating a National Register to record the failure rates of gynaecological mesh.

The procedure - largely used for pelvic prolapse issues - has recently been reclassified in the US as "high-risk" due to its dangers, with several successful multi-million dollar lawsuits launched by women who have been left in agony by mesh that has migrated and eroded after the operation, leaving them in constant pain and in many cases permanently disabled or needing life-saving surgery when the mesh perforates their intestines.

A burgeoning campaign in the UK has seen Scotland establish a mandatory medical database - to record instances of failure and give a true measure of the suffering being caused - and now Jemima, 54, and solicitor Dr Sarah-Jane Richards want to see the same in Wales.

A similar register was created for a faulty hip product, eventually leading to its withdrawal in 2010, something Jemima - who says her wellbeing has been irreparably damaged since her operation - hopes will one day happen to surgical mesh.

Dr Richards has said that she hopes Wales will follow Scotland's lead in recognising what she calls a "looming catastrophe". She has invited Mark Drakeford to meet with Jemima and her GP husband Dennis to discuss their experience.

Leading consultant urologist Marcus Drake - who is experienced in the practically impossible task of attempting to remove surgical mesh - has also requested to meet with the AM to explain the urgent need for a national register.

Once a national register is in place, the true failure rate can be used to legally seek a banning or reclassification of the procedure and compensation can be sought for women whose lives have been altered beyond repair.

Tellingly Dennis Williams, a GP in Barry for 30 years, said that even as a medical professional he was unaware of the dangers of mesh prior to his wife's operation - something he attributes to a lack of information regarding the likelihood of failure. He also believes that, were surgeons aware of the failure rate, they would be less likely to perform the procedure.

"Out of all my colleagues in Barry there's probably only two who know about mesh" he said.

"We are ignorant of what is happening and you are only as good as the information you are given.

"If we are not aware of it, when these ladies come to us we send them off to consultants without informing them.

"If ladies come to me now I discourage them from having it. Prior to this I wasn't doing that.

"If the adverse effects are recorded properly surgeons would be reluctant to put it in in the first place, unless it's unavoidable."

In her letter to Mark Drakeford, Dr Richards says: "Mesh has been used extensively to treat conditions which cause discomfort and inconvenience but are not life threatening.

"Within a year or so, many patients have faced excruciating pain as the mesh has migrated to other parts of the lower abdomen perforating intestines and organs."

She goes on to explain that although implanting the mesh is a straightforward procedure, surgeons have not been trained to remove it as it is not designed to be removed.

"Indeed, many women are being left highly damaged and in permanent pain as surgeons refuse to operate for fear of causing greater harm."

Assembly member for the Vale of Glamorgan Jane Hutt has also written to Mark Drakeford in support of creating a national register.

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