Consumer forums to discuss transvaginal mesh

The Commission organised a series of consumer consultation forums with the assistance of state health consumer councils in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney from January to March 2017. The intent was to provide consumers with the opportunity to provide information about their experience of transvaginal mesh treatment to inform the development of patient decision support resources.

Thirty-one women participated in the forums, either in person or by telephone. The majority of participants had been treated for stress urinary incontinence.

Since that time, the Commission developed patient information resources, which were informed by the forums.  As part of this process a working group was formed to guide development and two further meetings in Sydney and Perth were held with women who have had mesh implanted to comment on the draft resources.  The resources were finalised in conjunction with the working group and the women we have met during the consultation process

The common themes and issues raised by women who attended the forums are summarised below.

Treatment options for stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse

  • Women told the Commission that general practitioners, medical specialists, other healthcare providers and patients need to be better informed about surgical and non-surgical treatment options for stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and the potential complications of transvaginal mesh treatments

The impact of complications

  • The majority of women who attended the forums reported experiencing chronic pain, ongoing incontinence, loss of sexual function, various forms of emotional and psychological distress, broken relationships and unemployment following treatment with transvaginal mesh
  • Many women reported that their general practitioner and/or medical specialist either did not recognise signs and symptoms of complications following transvaginal mesh treatment or did not associate those signs and symptoms with transvaginal mesh treatment

Informed consent processes

  • Many women felt that easily accessible information was needed about surgical and non-surgical treatment options for stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, the potential short and long term complications of transvaginal mesh treatments and the difficulty of removing mesh as it was intended to be permanent

Services for assessment and treatment of complications associated with transvaginal mesh

  • Easily accessible information is needed for patients, general practitioners and medical specialists about the location of, and referral pathways for, Australian services for assessment and treatment of complications and removal of mesh
  • Women attending the forums said consideration should be given to development of specialist services for assessment and treatment of mesh complications;  they said a range of skilled health care providers should be part of those services including surgeons, physiotherapists and pain management specialists
  • Women said general practitioners and other healthcare providers needed to be better informed about the diagnosis and management of transvaginal mesh complications and services to which patients could be referred for specialised assessment and treatment of complications
  • Women said a consistent approach and more evidence was needed to improve assessment and treatment of transvaginal mesh complications

Reporting of complications

  • A number of women said processes for consumers to report problems and complications to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) should be made easier, and information should be provided about action in response to those reports
  • Several women said action was needed to require surgeons and general practitioners to report complications following transvaginal mesh surgery, and to make the information about complications and actions taken in response to reports easily available
  • Women felt much better information was needed about the number of women who are treated with transvaginal mesh, and the number who experience complications following that treatment

Skills levels of surgeons who implant and remove mesh

  • A number of women called for information about the skill level of surgeons who implanted and removed mesh, and the outcomes for their patients, to be easy to access
  • Women felt there should be standards which surgeons have to meet if they were permitted to implant and remove transvaginal mesh

Some women who attended the forums thought that transvaginal mesh should be banned because of the serious complications it could cause. Others acknowledged that, as there are women who have benefited from treatment with mesh, informed consent, ensuring that surgeons have the right skills, better reporting of complications and better information on the number of women who have had transvaginal mesh procedures should be a priority.

There is more information on the Commission’s work on transvaginal mesh here.