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Pelvic mesh scandal: Northern Ireland victims to have their say at Westminster

By Angela Rainey

A debate on the safety of pelvic mesh implants today at Westminster is being backed by five women from Northern Ireland.

Jackie Harvey from Banbridge; Paula Cairnduff and Susan McLarnon from Belfast; and Arlene Simmons and Iris Henderson from Larne, are supporting the national campaign, Sling the Mesh.

Together they will unite with women and medical professionals from across the UK at 9.30am to lobby politicians after the debate, calling for a public inquiry into their usage.

The women, who also represent Meshed Up NI, which has more than 300 members, have all been treated with pelvic mesh for common conditions caused by childbirth such a prolapses and urinary incontinence.

Made of polypropylene plastic, the same mesh is also used to repair hernias.

They said the aim was to have the 20-minute procedure outlawed, as it has been in Scotland since 2004, as it causes "life-changing injuries".

Ms Harvey suffered 12 years of pain after having a mesh implant inserted in March 2005 when she was 36, having suffered urinary incontinence after having her second child.

She said she was not made aware of the risks associated before she had the surgery and that eight years later she started to experience extreme pain in her legs, hips and feet, which made walking painful and any form of exercise impossible.

Doctors referred her to an orthopaedic consultant to run tests on her bones, as well as a rheumatologist who confirmed that she did not have arthritis.

Then, after reading an article about the Sling the Mesh campaign, Ms Harvey (49) said she had a "lightbulb" moment and realised it was the implant that was the problem.

She was referred to a gynaecologist who said they could find nothing wrong, but Ms Harvey was unconvinced and so sought a private second opinion in England.

She underwent a scan in London which found her mesh was wrongly positioned, then paid £8,000 to have it removed in March earlier this year at a hospital in Oxford.

Ms Harvey said although she was still in pain, it brought her "immediate relief".

"I was tired of feeling ill and exhausted," she said.

"I had no quality of life due to the pain. I couldn't sit in a restaurant or stand for very long, so I just stayed in.

"The problem was there are no surgeons here that are qualified to remove the implants, which embed after six weeks then corrode into organs like the bowel, bladder and vaginal walls, so trying to remove them is like picking chewing gum out your hair.

"They cut through the organs like cheesewire, causing horrendous pain, and I was sick of being looked at as some middle-age hypochondriac whenever I asked for help.

"It has taken us women to come out and talk about personal issues like our vaginas to highlight this - it's really awful but it had to be done.

"Really, I dodged a bullet as my mesh would have embedded in my bladder like so many others.

"It's really awful hearing how these meshes have taken away people's lives, their marriages and jobs and even their internal organs. I still have a lot of anger about what happened to me, but other women have suffered worse."

Concerns regarding the implants can be reported through the yellow card scheme at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency or the Adverse Incident Centre at Stormont.

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