NHS hernia mesh repairs ‘leaving patients in chronic pain’

  • 28 June 2017
  • From the section Health
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Media captionNHS hernia mesh felt like ‘scratching from inside’

NHS England is using mesh to repair hernias which leaves many patients in chronic pain, surgeons have told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

The concerns come after it emerged that more than 800 women are taking legal action against the NHS over the use of vaginal mesh implants.

One woman said she was left “screaming on all fours from the agonising pain”.

NHS England said mesh implants had been successfully used to treat hernias for several decades.

The material is its “recommended method” for treating the condition. It is used on tens of thousands of patients every year.

‘Fiery burning agony’

A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue pokes through a gap where muscle has weakened. It most commonly takes place in the groin.

The use of mesh involves pushing bulging tissue back into the abdomen and covering it with the material, and can be delivered via open or keyhole surgery.

Leila Hackett had an umbilical hernia mesh repair in 2013.

“Straightaway I could feel the mesh,” she said. “It was like somebody scratching you from inside your body, it’s so unpleasant and constant.

“It started off like fiery burning agony but it never stopped hurting or itching.”

The mother-of-two spoke to her GP about her pain many times, but was told the mesh was not the problem.

Two years later, she was taken to hospital after the material had become stuck to her internal organs, causing her bowel to twist.

“The pain got so agonising I was just screaming on all fours,” Mrs Hackett explained.

During her operation, the surgeon spent four hours picking the material out.

“As soon as I came round, I knew the mesh had been removed because I felt normal again,” she said.

One in 10 people will develop a hernia, and some experts are concerned about the “thousands of hernia mesh patients who are living with chronic pain”.

Former general surgeon, Peter Jones, from Kent, spent much of his career removing mesh from British groin hernia patients.

“Severe pain is a common problem and patients aren’t being warned about it,” Mr Jones said.

“At least half of patients who have a mesh repair will have a smooth recovery, but in my opinion the risks of a poor outcome are so bad, I wouldn’t want to take that risk.

“I think litigation will come into this. If enough people got together and said, ‘We are suffering and we weren’t warned about it’, that could put a dent into the mesh repair for hernias.”

Find out more

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

Martin Kincey, 39, started experiencing pain in 2011, 12 years after he had a mesh repair for his inguinal hernia.

“I used to play all sorts of sports,” he explained. “But now the simplest of movements can be seriously painful. It feels like I have been stabbed with something hot.”

Martin has had multiple scans, blood tests and colonoscopies, which have all come back clear.

“They’ve ruled out everything this could be, other than pursuing the mesh complications,” he said.

“There must be thousands of people who are experiencing pain who don’t realise it could be the mesh.

“It might not be to blame, but until it’s investigated, how can we know?”

While studies show 10% to 15% of groin hernias patients will experience chronic pain following a repair, surgeons say more research is needed for less common hernias.

Mesh-free alternative

There is a mesh-free alternative for patients with groin hernias, which some surgeons have called for the NHS to teach its staff, so patients can have a choice.

The Shouldice hernia repair involves a surgeon overlapping and securing layers of the abdominal wall, once a bulge has been placed back inside a patient’s body.

The technique was created at the Shouldice Hernia Centre in Toronto, which has a 99.5% lifetime success rate for treating first-time groin hernias.

According to NHS Choices, 10% of hernias come back at some point after surgery.

However, NHS England said the Shouldice repair was hard to replicate in its hospitals.

It said mesh repairs had been undertaken extensively and successfully in the UK for several decades.

The Royal College of Surgeons said while “any poor outcomes are regrettable”, mesh implants were the “most effective” way to deal with a hernia.

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