Earlier this year, an NHS investigation found that surgeon Anthony Dixon had caused women “to suffer harm” as a result of mesh operations he carried out between 2007 and 2017. Dixon, who is now banned from practicing at the UK, he performed hundreds of laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR) operations both for the North Bristol NHS Trust and privately at Bristol’s Spire Hospital. The mesh is used to repair the pelvic floor, but the research concluded that women should have been offered alternative treatments first.
Jennifer Hill, from Herefordshire, is one such woman. She wishes she could go back in time and not have her mesh operation, which took place in May 2012. “I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding mesh,” she says. “I still realize I didn’t get a second opinion or ask more questions.”
Hill, who has two grown children and three grandchildren, is now in constant pain and has to irrigate her intestines up to four times a day. She has pudendal neuralgia caused by nerve damage in the pelvic region and dyspareunia (painful intercourse).
The former teaching assistant is still awaiting resolution of her legal case, but is one of seven women privately operated on by Dixon whose cases against him are being combined as evidence of “alternative dispute resolution” by the firm. medical malpractice law Thompsons Solicitors. The Thompsons are trying to resolve the cases through mediation. Hill hopes this will help women like her get justice faster in the future.
Hill had been struggling with intestinal problems since 2005 and had lost a lot of weight. Despite eliminating food groups and trying various treatments, her symptoms did not improve. A consultant gastroenterologist at Spire Bristol advised her to see Dixon, who diagnosed her with a prolapsed rectum caused by a hysterectomy.
However, Hill says that after the operation, which also included a sacrocolpopexy (vaginal mesh), her “bowel function progressively deteriorated, with abdominal pain, severe swelling, [and] episodes of constipation and diarrhea.
When she returned to Dixon in 2016, she says he told her: “Your colon is dead.” He removed her large colon, but she has since been told that this operation should never have happened. Worse still, after the surgery she discovered that he had removed her existing synthetic mesh and replaced it with a biological one, without her consent.
“He was waking up and he told me: ‘That mesh was on the rats’ tails.’ He was quite cheerful. But what he should have done, seeing the state of the mesh, is to stop the operation, bring me back, talk to me and my husband and say: ‘This is what is happening, what do you think?’ I did not consent to this additional procedure.”
The problem with mesh implants is that they can deteriorate in the body and become embedded in other organs. The use of vaginal mesh was stopped in the UK, and centers were established to treat women who sustained mesh-related injuries.
“I can’t have sex because it hurts so much”
Although complications with LVMR operations are thought to be fewer than with vaginal mesh, although there are no definitive figures, when they do occur they can be devastating. Often, as with Hill, mesh complications mean that sex life becomes impossible.
“I can’t have sex because it hurts so much. My husband, Eric, is younger than me, but I’m lucky he doesn’t complain. But I feel like they have taken away my rights as a woman, as a wife and my rights to good health.”
What do you think of Anthony Dixon now? “I felt like it was the golden pinnacle of all mesh surgeries,” she says. “I should have been looking into the cause of my chronic IBS, but it was all about surgery.”
Tim Whittlestone, Medical Director of the North Bristol NHS Trust, says: “I want to reiterate the apology I gave in May this year to all patients who underwent surgery for rectal prolapse unnecessarily: it was completely unacceptable. As soon as we suspected there was a problem, we took immediate action, including suspending and then firing Mr. Dixon in 2019, and have been providing ongoing support to patients where they need it ever since. We completed a thorough and robust review earlier this year that prompted us to make changes to try to prevent something like this from happening again.”
A Spire Healthcare spokesperson says: “Mr Dixon has not practiced with us since 2017. Concerns were raised about his practice at both the local NHS trust and Spire. As soon as we found out about this, we investigated it and stopped the practice of it. We and the local NHS Trust have worked together to review the care of patients treated by Mr Dixon at the NHS Trust and at Spire. The NHS trust review is now complete and ours is still ongoing. We have worked closely with regulators and the General Medical Council to share relevant information across the healthcare sector.
“Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do, and we strive to provide high-quality care that is tailored to each patient’s needs. We sincerely apologize to all the patients who were harmed by Mr. Dixon.”