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Now Northern Ireland suspends use of vaginal mesh implants

By Lisa Smyth

Surgeons in Northern Ireland are to be told to stop using vaginal mesh - one day after health officials suspended use of the implants in England.

Northern Ireland chief medical officer (CMO), Dr Michael McBride, is writing to health trusts here to advise a pause in mesh surgery similar to that being put in place in England.

It comes after an independent review into the use of the controversial implants recommended the immediate suspension of surgical mesh for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence.

Baroness Julia Cumberlege, who is heading up the review, said she has been "appalled at the seriousness and scale of the tragic stories we have heard from women and their families".

She advised the Department of Health in England to suspend the use of the mesh implants until all necessary steps could be taken to mitigate the risk of injury to patients, and gave a deadline of next March.

Campaign group Sling the Mesh NI had been left horrified after it initially emerged that the suspension was not being immediately implemented in Northern Ireland too.

However, a spokeswoman from the Department of Health announced yesterday that Dr McBride is taking action to ensure the same standards are put in place here.

"The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride will be writing to Trusts advising that a pause in mesh surgery be introduced similar to that being put in place in England," she said.

Jackie Harvey from Sling the Mesh last night welcomed the development. "We are delighted and relieved to hear that the CMO has decided to temporarily suspend the use of vaginal mesh in line with the recommendations announced by the Cumberlege Review.

"This will undoubtedly save more women in Northern Ireland from being exposed to the harm that these implants can cause, which can be life-changing.

"During this suspension we will continue to push for a permanent suspension and also for those already suffering from mesh complications to be put on patient pathways which are fit for purpose to treat the serious issues involved."

Almost 7,000 women in Northern Ireland had vaginal mesh implants between 2005 and 2015.

The majority of women will not suffer complications from the procedure - and it is not known exactly how many people in Northern Ireland are currently experiencing problems - however, Sling the Mesh NI has more than 500 members.

Affected women have told how their lives have been turned upside down as a result of the implants. Some have even considered suicide as they can no longer cope with the agony they experience as a result of mesh tearing internal tissue and vital organs.

SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan welcomed the call by Dr McBride.

Mr Durkan said: "The action taken by the Department of Health today to request that all trusts ban vaginal mesh surgery is the right call.

"The harrowing accounts from women across Northern Ireland that I have heard, and there are many more stories to be told, highlight the urgent need for the trusts to ban this practice immediately as requested.

"It is frustrating that once again patients in Northern Ireland have had to wait for this news due to the political void.

"However, I would commend the Department for taking this action that will prevent any more women from sustaining both mental and physical injuries that can result from this practice."

Mr Durkan added: "The Department of Health must now clarify what plans are in place to help those women who are still suffering because of this practice."

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