Limerick solicitor claims lives are being destroyed in latest health service scandal

limerick solicitor melanie power limerick post news health

A LIMERICK solicitor is highlighting the case of Irish women who claim their lives have been ruined by a medical device designed to stop incontinence by leading a protest to the Dáil this Thursday.

Dooradoyle-based Melanie Power says the women have been left in excruciating pain, lost their jobs, left needing walking aids or, in extreme cases, being confined to beds or wheelchairs following operations to insert plastic pelvic mesh that cannot be removed in this country.

She has organised the Mesh Survivors Ireland group and has spearheaded the national campaign to suspend the use of pelvic mesh in Ireland until the women’s’ claims can be fully investigated.

“Transvaginal mesh devices are used in surgeries to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. The device contracts in the pelvic area bringing with it nerves, tissues and slicing like cheese wire into whatever organs get in the way,” Ms Power told The Limerick Post.

“Women were not warned there could be serious side effects. This device needs to be looked at on a special scan which is not available here. It can’t even be seen, only the damage it causes and it can’t be removed by surgery in this country.

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“Women have remortgaged their homes to go to the UK to have this device taken out, They’ve become reliant on walking sticks and wheelchairs and have been given no option but to medicate their pain, often with drugs containing opiates. One woman who contacted the group said she had planned her suicide until she discovered this could be the reason for the terrible pain she has been suffering for years and which doctors have told her is all in her head”.

Terri, who has asked that only her first name be used, is one of the women who will be taking part in the protest.

She had the mesh fitted eight years ago and suffered disabling pain from the outset.

“I’ve had two children and I had incontinence when I sneezed. I was told this was a simple 20-minute procedure. Since the day it was done, it has taken my whole life,” the 44-year-old mother told The Limerick Post.

She had increasing periods of sick leave from her job as a home carer with the HSE, sometimes for months at a time.

“I’ve been off this time for a year and I’m lucky my job is being held open for me but I can’t do anything that involves physical exertion. If I do, I’m crippled with pain”.

Living on temporary illness payments, Terri’s mortgage has fallen behind.

“Three times I’ve had them come to my door with an eviction notice because of the arrears as a result of all the time off work.

“My daughter had to drop out in her last year in college. I couldn’t afford to keep her there and my son had to leave secondary school early because I couldn’t drive him the fifteen kilometres to school every day.

“I can’t plan anything because I never know what the pain will be like on any day. Sometimes it’s like the pain of childbirth. I’ve missed weddings, important occasions, social outings. I feel very isolated because when you have to keep refusing to go places, people stop asking you.

“I have no self-confidence. I go walking between midnight and dawn because I’m afraid to meet someone in case I stop to talk to them and the next thing is, I’m on my knees with pain. This has taken over my whole life”.

Terri has applied for the treatment abroad scheme to have the device removed. A private operation would cost in excess of €8,000.

These procedures have been carried out on Irish women since the late 90s but Ms Power says one of the procedures has been effectively banned in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

“What is particularly infuriating is that for many of the women, the condition they had prior to this surgery was nothing more than embarrassing and inconvenient.

“Irish urogynaecologists are maintaining that the despite the life-altering consequences caused by this device, that it is the “gold standard” treatment for stress urinary incontinence”.

A recent NHS audit of women implanted with the device showed that in the eight years following surgery 40 per cent needed treatment for trauma and orthopaedics, 50 per cent needed treatment for gynaecological complications and 10 per cent needed treatment for pain management.

Many women report that in the years following the procedure, they are problem free but it can take up to 15 years for the debilitating problems to start.

HSE figures show that around 2,000 of these devices were implanted in 2015 alone, excluding procedures done privately.

”We have allowed Irish women to be treated as guinea pigs for 20 years because, for the most part, these devices were not tested on humans before being introduced to the market,” Ms Power said.

“We need to stop and take stock of the evidence base of what damage this device has caused.  Once this information is available, the government can make an informed decision on whether to ban this device completely. The device has to be suspended until this happens. Traditional surgery is an option in the meantime. ”

A number of members of the group are considering legal action arising from their complaints which are being handled by Ms Power’s firm.

The Continence Foundation of Ireland, a group of health professionals who specialise in the treatment of incontinence and prolapse, carry a statement on the devices on its website.

Addressing concerns about the device raised by patients, it says that if non-surgical measures do not help, “surgery in the form of a Mid-urethral sling (MUS) may be recommended. Mid-urethral slings are minimally invasive procedures developed in Europe in the 1990s to treat female stress urinary incontinence.

“These slings are narrow, polypropylene tapes that are placed beneath the middle part of the urethra to provide dynamic support to stop leakage from the bladder. They have been shown to be as effective as more invasive traditional surgery with major advantages of shorter operating and admission times, and a quicker return to normal activities together with lower rates of complications.

In a statement to the Limerick Post, a HSE spokesperson said that the Minister for Health has asked the Government Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, to advise on the use of Transvaginal Mesh Implants and that this will take a number of months to complete.