Lois Rogers

Journalist and Communicator

Surgical mesh death

Mental health

‘How I will ever get over this, I just don’t know,’ says Philip Chatfield. ‘If I hear a loud scream, it takes me straight back: sometimes it went on for half an hour without stopping.

‘She was in agony. I just didn’t know what to do. She tried so hard to live with it but, in the end, she just gave up.’

Philip, 59, a sculptor from the Gower Peninsula in remote South Wales, is describing the final years of his former partner, Lucinda Methuen-Campbell, the mother of their son, Angus, who is now 19.

Lucinda, 58, committed suicide earlier this year. She was one of more than 100 patients to have complained of crippling pain after they received implantable surgical mesh to treat bowel problems.

The material used is the same as the controversial gynaecological mesh used to repair post-childbirth incontinence. In some women treated for incontinence, this material has fragmented and ‘migrated’, leaving many in permanent, agonising pain.

Some have suffered such severe nerve damage that they cannot walk and rely on wheelchairs.

Following a long campaign by Good Health, the use of the vaginal mesh is now the subject of a government inquiry, but no date has yet been given for its conclusion.

But now, there are concerns about the mesh used in rectal surgery (rectopexy), with up to 100 patients given the mesh by a Bristol surgeon, Anthony Dixon, embarking on legal action — against Mr Dixon himself, as well as Southmead Hospital in Bristol where he worked for the NHS, and the Spire Bristol Hospital, where he practised privately.

Most are patients who developed constipation and extreme pain in mid-life, which subsequently turned out to be the symptom of a prolapsed bowel.

Lucinda was a private patient of Mr Dixon. ‘She developed a bowel problem in 2013 and said she was in terrible pain,’ recalls Philip.

‘She found Mr Dixon on the internet and went to see him as a private patient in December of that year. He said he knew exactly what was wrong and seemed pretty gung-ho about fixing it.’

She had the first operation to put in the mesh early in 2014 — ‘but it didn’t work’, says Philip. ‘She was literally screaming in agony. She had two more operations, but neither of them worked, either.’

Philip continues: ‘Although she and I had split up in 2001, when Angus was two, I felt I had to move back in to help her.

‘I had no idea I was going to be there trying to help her for the next four-and-a-half years.

‘I slept downstairs, but I could always hear her crying out. I couldn’t work. I spent all my time trying to do practical things to help her.’

Lucinda, who also had a daughter, Poppy, 35, from an earlier relationship, lived in a village outside Swansea, South Wales, and had been a much-loved classroom assistant at a local primary school.

‘I was the person who found her,’ says Philip. ‘The shock and trauma are very hard to cope with.

‘To try so hard for so long to help someone, and all for nothing, is very hard to bear.’

Like Lucinda, Sam Van Der Heijden, 58, a former NHS administrator from Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, who has three adult children, found her way to Mr Dixon as a private patient, following an internet search in 2011. ‘He came up as a pioneering surgeon for bowel problems,’ she says. ‘He told me I needed a rectopexy. Mr Dixon told me the bowel was going to be pulled up and stapled with titanium tacks to the base of my spine.

‘I was so pleased something was being done. I didn’t question whether it would work.’

But she says she’s been left in agonising pain, which has affected her marriage and her ability to work. She has since undergone further surgery to remove the embedded mesh, which has caused permanent nerve damage. ‘This has ruined the past eight years of my life,’ she adds.

Another of Mr Dixon’s patients, Ian Waterfield, 56, a former chef from Huddersfield, is one of the first men to report life-limiting damage caused by mesh surgery.

A sports enthusiast who travelled the world swimming, skiing and attending music festivals, he developed digestive problems in mid-life, with bouts of projectile vomiting and severe constipation that began 14 years ago.

Despite several spells in hospital, his symptoms were repeatedly dismissed as irritable bowel syndrome — until 2009, when he was diagnosed with a prolapsed bowel. He was referred to Mr Dixon through the NHS and underwent the mesh repair operation in 2010. But the procedure did not work and led to repeated operations and the removal of a section of his bowel.

‘I have been a complete wreck ever since,’ he says. ‘I don’t have a life, I have an existence. I can’t work and my relationship broke down because of this. I am in constant pain — it’s like bits of broken glass sticking into me.

‘Some nights, I don’t bother going to bed. I only sleep for five minutes at a time.’

Sohier Elneil, a London-based gynaecologist who specialises in repairing injuries linked to implanted surgical mesh, has become a vociferous campaigner against its use for women with incontinence.

She believes rectopexy is now unravelling as a potential problem area, too.

‘In the past year, I have done repairs on 15 of Mr Dixon’s patients,’ she says.

‘There is a problem with the material itself — disintegrating and moving around inside people’s bodies — and with the technique being used to insert it.’

According to lawyer Madeleine Pinschof, of Thompsons Solicitors, who is representing 61 of Mr Dixon’s patients, the complaints about Mr Dixon ‘are mostly about whether the operations were appropriate in the first place’. She says some of the complaints relate to surgery that was performed up to ten years ago.

Last August, restrictions were placed on Mr Dixon’s practice by the General Medical Council, preventing him from carrying out bowel repair surgery.

Chris Burton, the medical director of North Bristol NHS Trust, which operates Southmead Hospital, would not tell Good Health when Mr Dixon had stopped treating patients at the hospital.

He said: ‘[Mr Dixon] is not currently providing any clinical services to patients at our hospital. We would like to reassure patients that we are taking this very seriously and our investigations are continuing. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on specific details while our investigations are ongoing.’

Dr Jean-Jacques de Gorter, medical director of the Spire Group, said it had suspended Mr Dixon’s practising privileges pending the investigation.

As the Mail has reported, last Friday, an inquest into Lucinda Methuen-Campbell’s death concluded she had taken her own life because of intractable pain.

Lucinda’s family say she had experienced mental health problems — which worsened after the death of her own mother in 2013 — before she saw Mr Dixon.

Her sister, Catherine, 53, a mother-of-four who lives in Lewes, East Sussex, says: ‘We can’t say if she killed herself because of the mesh. Mr Dixon should never have touched her, but he wasn’t to know she was mentally ill because she saw him as a private patient and her GP would not have told him.’

Details of patients’ complaints were put to Mr Dixon by Good Health through the Medical Protection Society, a doctors’ insurance company which is co-ordinating his defence. He declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

A spokesman for NHS Resolution, which deals with litigation by patients, said it is currently negotiating a group ‘protocol’ to cover the various types of compensation claims against Mr Dixon, but he said as more claimants are continuing to come forward, the process is ‘ongoing’.

For confidential support in the UK, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch — see samaritans.org for details.

Written by Lois Rogers