The inside story of the vaginal mesh scandal, from top removal surgeon | Artificial intelligence

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implants have injured thousands of women. Sohier Elneil explains how the crisis happened and why women turned to her for treatment

“This is about right of access to good healthcare, and belief in women”

Dave Stock for New Scientist


IN THE late 1980s, the medical industry was looking for new ways to treat women experiencing urinary incontinence and prolapse, both relatively common conditions following childbirth. At the time, doctors suggested physiotherapy, weight loss and other non-surgical interventions, with complex surgery as a last resort.

When mesh implants came along, they seemed like a simple and convenient alternative: a flexible plastic scaffold that took less than an hour to implant and allowed women to leave hospital quickly and get on with their lives. Permanent mesh implants became standard treatment for millions of women with these conditions.

They have proved effective in many cases. But some women have experienced complications, including mesh eroding through the vaginal wall or piercing the bladder, nerve damage and infection. The implant can cause chronic pain, sometimes so severe women are barely able to walk.

Tens of thousands of women around the world have brought lawsuits. The US Food and Drug Administration reclassified mesh as a “high-risk” device in 2016. More recently, Australia and New Zealand have banned its use in some circumstances. And in July the UK’s National Health Service suspended the use of mesh in England for stress incontinence.

The mesh was designed to allow bodily tissue to grow through it, so it is very hard to remove. Sohier Elneil at University College Hospital in London is one of fewer than 10 surgeons in the UK able to carry out the procedure. She performed her first mesh in 2005 …

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