NHS figures show that over the last six years around 570,000 people have had the implants for hernia, a common issue where surgery or a tear in the connective tissue or muscle causes the organs to push through the wall of the cavity in which they normally reside.
British regulators regard the procedure as less risky than recently banned vaginal mesh implants, which has left manufacturers facing lawsuits involving thousands of women with life changing injuries, or worse.
However, surgical experts are now claiming that complications occur in as many as 30 per cent of hernia mesh surgeries, and that these can be every bit as harmful as with vaginal mesh.
MP Owen Smith, who heads the All Party Parliamentary Group on Surgical Mesh warned that the UK “could potentially have another scandal on its hands” if complications proved correct and said that regulators were not listening to patient experiences.
Jen Coles, 34, spoke to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about her experiences following a mesh implant in January 2017 which left her in debilitating pain.
“I was hunched over and walking as though I was elderly and I couldn’t stand up straight and it hurt all the time,” she said. “I had a cane because I just felt really unsteady on my feet.”
Her family paid for her to have two large implants removed over fears of how long it would take to get the procedure on the NHS. But while the pain has decreased she still struggles to do simple tasks.
“Sometimes I just want to scream,” she said. “It’s maddening.”
She added that before the mesh implant she “was so active – running around commuting, kayaking, and now I can’t pick up a sock from the floor.”
Mesh implants can be flexible or rigid, but can degrade under repeated stress in the body and cut into the internal tissues.
Recent studies have shown that a loophole in licensing laws let manufacturers bring out multiple mesh products made from different materials or in different designs by stating it is similar to an originally licensed version.
Mr Smith said: “It reflects the flawed system we have in place, neither the regulators or the manufacturers have to follow up on problems. Companies ultimately have to take some responsibility for this. It’s not good for them to give this to the NHS and then they walk away with the NHS carrying any liability.”
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which licenses drugs and medical products for use in the UK told the BBC it has “not had any evidence which would lead us to alter our stance on surgical mesh for hernia repairs or other surgical procedures for which they are used.
“The decision to use mesh should be made between patient and clinician, recognising the benefits and risks,” it added.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the implants remain “the most effective way” to treat hernia, though private surgeons told the BBC that they prefer to suture the wound closed.