Hernia mesh surgery leaves men in pain

By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC News NI Health Correspondent

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mesh is the NHS's 'recommended method' for treating groin hernias

A group of men have said they have been left in chronic pain and made to feel hopeless after having mesh inserted during surgery for hernias.

The men, who have formed a self-help group in Northern Ireland, are calling for a suspension of the material's use until more is known about it.

The Shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Smith, has told BBC News NI he believes the mesh issue will become one of the biggest health scares in the UK.

But the Department of Health has said it was confining its work to complaints made only by women.

Speaking to the BBC, the men said they felt their complaints should be taken into consideration as well.

'I have no private life'

For the majority, hernia operations are successful, but they can leave patients in chronic pain.

Roy Morrison said the pain on his pubic bone is almost constant.

"Think of when a sports man gets kicked in the groin area and falls to the ground in pain," he said. "That's what my pain can be like."

Mesh for treating groin hernias

The material is the NHS's "recommended method" for treating hernias, and is used on tens of thousands of patients every year.

A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue pokes through a gap where muscle has weakened. It most commonly takes place in the groin.

The use of mesh involves pushing bulging tissue back into the abdomen and covering it with the material, and can be delivered via open or keyhole surgery.

One in 10 people will develop a hernia, and some experts are concerned about the "thousands of hernia mesh patients who are living with chronic pain".

According to NHS Choices, 10% of hernias come back at some point after surgery.

The Royal College of Surgeons said while "any poor outcomes are regrettable", mesh implants were the "most effective" way to deal with a hernia.

Image caption,
Roy Morrison has spent £5,000 in private clinics trying to find out what is causing his pain

Mr Morrison had mesh inserted during a hernia procedure 14 years ago and has set up the local Facebook group.

He has spent some £5,000 in private clinics trying to find out what is causing his pain.

"The whole time I went to see medical people in the health trusts and because this is not in the medical text books they say it can't be real," he said.

"They just don't believe you and you are left with a feeling of just hopelessness - and that is very painful too. "

Image caption,
The men who have formed a self-help group in Northern Ireland are calling for a suspension of the material's use until more is known about it

Members of the men's group said they were prepared to reveal personal details as they want other men to come forward and talk about their condition and receive help.

Damien Murtagh, who lives in Banbridge, has been left with a limp as a result of his operation four years ago.

"For years no one could tell me what is causing this pain," he said.

"I can no longer ride my bike, go fishing, I work part-time," he said.

"The pain in the lower stomach and groin area makes me feel physically sick. I have no private life. "

Image caption,
Damien Murtagh has had a limp since his operation four years ago

Now, men are going public following problems with mesh used in hernia operations.

They feel they are being passed from pillar-to-post as no one knows how to deal with their complaints.

Sean McGrath had a hernia operation in 2016, and said he would have thought twice about having the procedure had he been given any warning about potential complications.

"I was told that six weeks after the operation I would be back to normal, back to work, walking and cycling," said the 52-year-old from Newry.

"That's not the case. I am married and my personal life is affected too.

"I just want it fixed."

Image caption,
Sean McGrath said he was given no warning about potential complications

The Department of Health and the Public Health Agency have recently begun work involving medical consultants on the mesh issue.

In a statement the Department said a recent clinical workshop set out the next steps in developing a standard approach throughout Northern Ireland in managing women with these conditions.

"Mesh surgery has its place in the treatment of these conditions where individual women are appropriately assessed and choose the procedure having been advised of the risks and benefits," it said.

Meanwhile, an all-party parliamentary group has been set up by Owen Smith, who said he was shocked by the stories he had heard.

He said it is crucial that local MPs join the group so they can represent the interests of men and women living in Northern Ireland.

"It's going to be much bigger than the breast implant scare because 100,000 women, give or take, have had mesh implants across the UK," he said.

"The rate of adverse events is much higher than what we appreciated.