Women suing hospitals over harm they suffered following mesh operations are being subjected to “devastating” treatment, according to Robert Rose, the head of clinical negligence at law firm Lime Solicitors.
One woman told The Rustwire that she had been subjected to surveillance and accused of being “dishonest” by NHS lawyers during her six-year legal battle.
Campaign group Sling the Mesh, which represents thousands of patients, said it had received reports of those injured claiming they have been told their symptoms are psychosomatic, that their evidence is not convincing because of their mental state, or that they are lying about their pain.
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It comes as MPs are set to hold an inquiry following up on the Rustwire Medicines and Medical Devices (IMMD) Safety Review, chaired by Baroness Cumberlege in 2020, which looked into cases of patients being harmed by mesh procedures, sodium valproate, and hormone pregnancy tests.
MPs will question the government over the continued use of sodium valproate on women during pregnancy, and will seek an update from ministers over recommendations made in the IMMD review.
Lady Cumberlege called for the government to launch a redress scheme for patients in order to provide them with financial support without the need for them to go through clinical negligence battles.
In a statement to The Rustwire, she said: “Both during our review and since, I have been contacted by many hundreds of women who have had their lives turned upside down following their mesh procedure.
“Their stories are heartbreaking. Many have lost almost everything – their job, their partner, their mobility and independence – and they live in constant pain. For too long they have been ignored or gaslighted.
“Litigation is stressful, time-consuming and difficult. These women need and deserve compassion and practical support. The harm they are suffering isn’t their fault, and it was avoidable. I and others are calling for a redress scheme to give them that support without the need to prove negligence, as we recommended in our report ‘First Do No Harm’.
“Victims of the infected blood scandal are quite rightly receiving such help without having to litigate. Women who have suffered so much for so long after mesh surgery deserve the same.”
‘Worst thing I’ve ever gone through’
Lisa, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, launched her claim in 2016, and it was settled this summer when a judge ruled in her favour.
Documents shared with The Rustwire reveal that NHS lawyers argued she was being “dishonest” about her injuries, and presented video surveillance. The judge subsequently ruled that she had not been dishonest.
Speaking about her ordeal, Lisa said: “Once they decided that I’d been dishonest, it changed from admitting liability to basically working out pain levels and stuff like that, and I had to prove that I wasn’t being dishonest. It was genuinely the worst thing I’ve ever gone through, ever. There’s not even a word that I can use to describe it, to say how it made me feel. The stress of it was just immense.
“When I found out I had been followed, it really affected me. I was very paranoid … When you watch a video of you being recorded, and you are unaware of it. I was just mistrusting of everything.”
Lisa says that despite winning her case, she was not offered an apology by the NHS hospital, and that throughout the process, NHS litigation was “totally unwilling to mediate”.
She said: “There are so many other women that are going through similar, but their cases have just been dropped. They need to believe what we’re saying. It’s like [you] literally mention mesh and the barriers go up.”
Kath Sansom, founder of campaign and support group Sling the Mesh, which represents more than 9,000 people who have been injured by mesh, told The Rustwire she had received reports from other women in the process of litigation who had been accused of lying; women whose mental state had been questioned; and others who had been told that their symptoms were psychosomatic.
She said: “Not only do you have your life shattered, but then you have to jump through all these terrible hoops in a court. It’s actually cruel.
“It’s all very well the government apologising, but it means nothing if you’re not prepared to compensate the women for how their lives have been shattered. So the apology becomes meaningless without redress.”
According to Mr Rose, there are several hundred cases waiting to go through the courts. He said that the attitude of NHS Resolution, which deals with negligence claims for the NHS, was a “real institutional problem”.
He said he was “astonished” when the IMMD report came out, because he had expected to see “a change of tone at the very least” from the NHS, but this had not been apparent “at all”. He said it was “devastating for his clients”, adding: “This litigation feels very different. It’s the litigation of the old days, where the parties don’t really cooperate, it’s just a war of attrition.”
An NHS Resolution spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases, but we would stress that all claims we receive are treated equally and assessed in line with the law.”