Out of approximately 570,000 U.K. patients who have undergone hernia mesh surgery since 2012, as many as 170,000 may be suffering from complications. This information came out of an investigative report from the BBC, which was also published recently in the British Medical Journal.
What is more alarming, however, is that mesh surgery has been used to treat hernias for over 20 years – indicating that the number of people who are affected may be much higher. These patients now live with conditions making it impossible for them to lead a normal life. Thousands of lawsuits are pending against the hernia mesh manufacturers.
The situation has led the U.K. Parliament to begin its own investigation into the matter. One member, Owen Smith of the Labour Party, told the BBC that it may turn out to be another major scandal. He criticized the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) (the U.K.'s counterpart of the FDA) for its failure to act as well as mesh manufacturers, which are not required to monitor the performance of their products once they have been sold. Owens says, “It reflects the flawed system we have in place. Either the regulators or the manufacturers have to follow up on problems.” He adds, “Companies ultimately have to take some responsibility for this.”
The country's National Health Service has also drawn fire for its failure to have a consistent policy on treatment and follow-up of hernia patients. Meanwhile, MHRA continues to support and defend the use of the mesh. A representative told the BBC that they had “not had any evidence which would lead us to alter our stance on surgical mesh for hernia repairs or other surgical procedures,” insisting that “the decision to use mesh should be made between patient and clinician, recognizing the benefits and risks.” The Royal College of Surgeons also remains steadfast in its position that surgical mesh is the “most effective way” to treat a hernia.
One prominent hernia expert disagrees. Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck is the founder and chief surgeon of the Hernia Center in Munich, Germany. A recognized authority on hernia, Dr. Muschaweck has never used surgical mesh, opting instead for a suture technique using the patient's own tissues. However, she notes that the techniques she employs are disappearing because they are rarely taught in medical schools anymore. She has nonetheless successfully removed hernia meshes from 3,000 patients suffering from debilitating pain – all but two of whom have made full, pain-free recoveries.
Unfortunately, that relief comes at a price – £25,000 (almost $33,000 USD). That price tag includes the initial removal of the mesh, revision surgery to repair the hernia, and ongoing medical monitoring afterward.
This is not the first time U.K. patients have been down this path. Last year, a group of activists, led by Dr. Sohier ("Suzy") Elneil, successfully campaigned to stop the use of pelvic mesh by NHS surgeons. Dr. Elneil was among the first to realize over two decades ago that surgical mesh would lead to serious complications. Unfortunately, her concerns went largely ignored until the problem became a full-blown crisis.
Today, surgeons in the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Australia are again sounding the alarms – and once more, their concerns are being disregarded by regulators and administrators who favor convenience and low costs over patient safety – and their corporate handlers in the medical device industry, who inevitably put profits over people.