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Feature Vaginal Mesh

Taking women’s pain seriously: the surgeon who spoke out about vaginal mesh

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q1195 (Published 06 June 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q1195
  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. The BMJ

Sohier Elneil, surgeon, expert in women’s pain, and founder of the first NHS vaginal mesh removal centre, speaks to Rebecca Coombes about fighting for better care for her female patients

Sohier Elneil came into the public eye when she started speaking out about the devastation that implantation of vaginal mesh had caused to many women. For over 25 years, mesh was used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence in the United Kingdom. Its use is now suspended outside of strict conditions, but it is still in use globally, including in Europe and parts of the United States.

Elneil might have angered many professional colleagues with her outspokenness, but she has found vindication in the findings of a national inquiry that led to sweeping changes in women’s care. She spoke to The BMJ as she took up her post as the first professor of urogynaecology at University College London (UCL).

Speaking out made me a pariah

Elneil’s first case of extracting mesh was in 2005, a job she describes as “horrible.” “At the beginning, the women’s stories had a terrible effect. I couldn’t believe they were so badly treated,” she says. “I was surprised because when I was in Africa [where Elneil spent some of her childhood], I understood it as there were strong patriarchal societies that could explain it. In my head, England was not like that. So I got a shock because patients would say, ‘Oh, so-and-so put the mesh in.’ And I would think, ‘I know him, he’s a nice guy, why would he do this, and why would you not help her?’ I couldn’t comprehend it.”

Elneil started talking at societal and college events about the problems with mesh but found few allies. At first she was simply excluded from events, but soon the attacks became personal. She was reported …

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