THEY were told that it was a straightforward procedure that would end the difficulty of urinary incontinence.

But, instead, Eleanor May-Johnson and Suzie, both from Southampton, are among thousands of women in the UK whose lives have been blighted by vaginal mesh implants.

The implants are used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence in women, often following childbirth.

The mesh is usually made from synthetic polypropylene and is intended to repair damaged or weakened tissue.

The implants have been widely used throughout Europe, Australia and North America, since the early 2000s.

But NHS data indicates that one in 15 women who have had mesh implants have had to have them removed.

And mesh campaigners, as well as the Labour Party, are calling for use of mesh plants to be immediately halted and are urging the government to carry out a full public enquiry into the controversial procedure, which is causing some women severe pain and incontinence, while mesh campaigner Chrissy Brajcic died from sepsis.

Despite already having had two operations to remove mesh that had become loose, Eleanor, a midwife, is still in constant discomfort.

Meanwhile, Suzie has undergone five surgeries to remove mesh after it began to cause her severe pain, and is still in constant agony. At just 42 she has been medically retired and has gone from working in a high pressure job as an analyst for an insurance company, with an active lifestyle including ten hours of tae kwondo training a week, to having to alternate between sitting on the sofa or lying down, unable to find relief from her intense pain.

Eleanor, now 46, developed urinary incontinence following the birth of her three children, now aged 29, 24 and 21.

The condition worsened over time, and in December 2005, she had surgery to implant TVT (tension-free vaginal tape).

But within less than nine months, she had mesh exposure – a fragment had broken off and was visibly sticking out of her body. It was, of course, extremely painful.

She had surgery to remove the fragment, but five years later, the same problem happened again and further surgery was necessary.

“I was told that it was extremely rare and that my surgeon had never seen it happen five years later,” she says.

“I thought I was just unlucky, but then a couple of years ago I began to see the stories about mesh implants in the media, and realised that it wasn’t that rare after all, and a significant number of women have had problems that are much worse than mine.

“I still have more mesh inside me. I can feel a piece right by my urethra, and along one side of my vagina. I know it will be difficult to remove, because these are such sensitive structures and the mesh was designed to bond with the body’s tissues.”

Eighteen specialist mesh centres have been set up across the country for women experiencing problems related to mesh implants, but demand is high and waiting lists are long.

Eleanor was referred to University College London Hospitals (UCLH) in November, but the waiting list for a consultation is around eight months, with a similar wait for surgery after that.

“It feels like there is a ticking time bomb inside you,” she says.

“I feel very let down my the manufacturers of this device. It wasn’t communicated to women that there might be any complications. I was just told about the usual risks of having surgery.”

Eleanor has become involved with pressure and awareness group Sling the Mesh, which is calling on the government to ban all mesh and tape implants in the UK, a move which has already happened in Scotland.

While a number of women are taking legal action regarding their implants, Eleanor is not sure whether she will do so.

“The NHS doesn’t have any money and I don’t want to sue the NHS. I would rather go after the manufacturer but I’m outside of the ten year limitation period. However, I wasn’t aware of there being general issues with the device until two years ago.

“We’re asking the government to change the law so that we can go after the manufacturer.”

Eleanor adds that she wonders if the problem is being underestimated in part because women are being falsely perceived as being over dramatic about their symptoms.

“Women are often told that they are imagining their pain, that they’re depressed or that they’re mentally ill,” she says.

“I feel very angry and let down.”

Suzie developed urinary incontinence following the birth of her daughter, now 19. She had TVT surgery in 2012 and it was immediately apparent that something was not right.

“I never really recovered,” says the 42-year-old from Southampton.

“At my post-operation check, my surgeon said that something wasn’t right and thought that perhaps I was allergic to the material.”

A couple of months after the implant, Suzie was back in surgery again, but unfortunately it wasn’t all removed.

She has had a further four operations to remove the mesh but some still remains in her body.

Suzie was referred by her GP to specialists at UCLH in October, but found out last week that her referral had not been received so has had to start the process again.

In the meantime, she is left in what she describes as constant and horrendous pain.

“It is like someone is stabbing me in the groin and twisting the knife. When I try to walk, it feels like something is literally cutting into my urethra. It’s excruciating. I also have a constant feeling like severe period pain.

“I also have main in my lower back and hips – it feels like my pelvis is twisted.

“The worst pain is trying to wee. I find myself screaming and crying. It’s like trying to pass razorblades. It’s easier when Im incontinent as at least it’s not as painful as actually trying to wee. It’s got to the stage where I don’t think it can get anymore painful, but then it does.”

Suzie’s life now could hardly be more different to before her surgery. She had a well-paying full-time job, and often travelled with work. Having divorced her daughter’s father, she was also busy as a single mum, and filled the rest of her time with lots of hobbies, including tae kwondo training – she has a black belt – walking, running, playing the piano and socialising.

Now, she can only get about using a mobility scooter or, on a good day, a walking aid, and is largely confined to the house, due to double incontinence, pain and lack of confidence.

“It has made my life unbearable,” she says.

“I’m very depressed. I have shut myself off from my friends. I can’t really go out. I used to be very fit and sociable. Now I’m just at home and I hardly speak to anybody.

“I can’t express how horrible it is. I can’t get any relief from the pain. I can’t sleep. I can’t do any of the things I used to enjoy doing. I can’t even play piano because it’s too painful to sit at it.

“I just alternate between short spells of either lying down or sitting on the sofa. There’s nothing else I can do to relieve the pain.

“It has been bad for a couple off years, but it’s got worse recently,and the last six weeks have been a living hell.”

Suzzie would like to see the government suspend the use of all mesh implants while a full public enquiry is carried out and to give the NHS a cash injection, to provide mesh awareness training in the NHS so that women can be referred for the treatment they need and to bring down waiting times.

“It is incredibly expensive to see someone privately, and I just don’t have that kind of money. I used to have a fantastic job where I made good money, and now I’m struggling to make ends meet, with no future prospects whatsoever.

“I feel very let down. We weren’t warned that this could happen and now the NHS isn’t in a position to offer us the treatment that we need to fix it”

A survey of members of campaign group, Sling The Mesh, shows how previously healthy women must adjust to devastating new normals if they suffer complications after a quick fix operation for prolapse or incontinence.

The survey of 570 women comes before a Westminster mesh think tank meets on Tuesday, January 30.

It shows seven out of ten women lose their sex lives and six out of ten suffer depression, while one in seven lose their marriage/partners.

A third give up work completely, while one in five reduce their hours to cope.

More than half suffer constant urinary infections (UTI/cystitis), and one in 20 are becoming antibiotic resistant, a dangerous condition which puts them at risk of sepsis.

The survey shows that the majority (two thirds) had a mesh tape to fix incontinence – the type of mesh that surgeon society, RCOG says is an effective treatment for many women. Only a third had prolapse mesh – vaginal prolapse mesh was effectively banned at the end of last year.

Commenting on the survey, Chair of the APPG on Surgical Mesh Implants, Owen Smith MP said: “These results are truly heart-breaking and show the shocking extent of the suffering some women are facing following mesh implant surgery. Many of the issues detailed in the survey are life-changing and cannot be ignored. I am calling on the Government to urgently conduct a full audit of all patients who have been treated with mesh and a undertake a prospective registry of any new patients. Until we have a clear understanding of the long term risks and benefits of mesh, its use should be suspended.”

Kath Sansom of Sling The Mesh said: “The survey shows the personal devastation. We have women in the group who are suicidal, who don’t want to carry on because the pain is so intense. Yet previously they led healthy lives.

“Surgeon societies know there are big problems as 18 specialist mesh centres have been set up across England. Also conferences are being held on how to deal with mesh litigation.

“Surgeons only monitor women for around three months after an operation so have no idea of the scale of suffering as some problems take months or years to cut in. There is little reliable audit to back up claims it is a long term solution because there is no National Register like there is for hip implants.”

Of those surveyed, further results include: eight out of ten suffer pain when walking, seven out of ten lose their sex lives and six out of 10 suffer depression and anxiety.