Advising with empathy and experience

Bristol NHS Trust finds 200 patients harmed by mesh bowel surgery


More than 200 hospital patients underwent mesh bowel operations they might not have needed, a review has found.

Most of the surgery intended to fix prolapsed bowels was carried out by surgeon Tony Dixon, who was dismissed in 2019.

One patient, Tracey Hanman, was later told she might not have needed the mesh surgery she underwent.

Tony Dixon pioneered the use of artificial mesh to lift prolapsed bowels, a technique known as laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR),  often caused by childbirth.

Ms Hanman, 47, from Melksham, Wiltshire, continued: "It's horrendous. You can't put it into words. Every day you battle with the fact someone has done that to you and they didn't need to."

Annette Whiting, 62, from Sea Mills in Bristol, said: "I felt violated. Beyond angry, beyond upset. It affects your everyday life. Your body aches, you have to run to the toilet, you've got no control over it whatsoever."

The women, who have since been contacted by the trust to confirm they should have been offered less invasive procedures, said they were still suffering excruciating pain following their operations.

Mr Dixon has declined to comment on the outcome of the review but has previously said that the operations were carried out in good faith and that any surgery carried risk of further complications.

The review studied 10 years up to 2017 and considered 218 patients who underwent LVMR surgery at Southmead Hospital. It concluded 110 were harmed.

It also studied the cases of 169 NHS patients operated on by Mr Dixon at the private Spire Hospital, Redland, and found 93 came to harm.

Mesh implants are medical devices used by surgeons to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence in women, conditions that can commonly occur after childbirth.

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

A consultant reported his concerns about Mr Dixon to the trust in 2013, but he was allowed to continue working. He was eventually reported to the General Medical Council in 2015. The trust suspended him two years later.

Following the review, the trust has written to each patient with the outcome of the review of their care.

The review said that it had notified the 203 NHS patients that, while their operation was carried out satisfactorily, they should have been offered alternative treatments before surgery, and it had therefore "defined these patients as suffering 'harm' as a result."

The review stated: "harm is defined as undergoing an operation that may not have been required, where other less invasive options could have been offered first.”

North Bristol NHS Trust medical director, Dr Timothy Whittlestone, said: "We are aware a number of patients have had significant complications and we are extremely sorry these complications happened.

"For a small number of patients who have suffered significant and devastating complications we've deemed that nevertheless the surgery was a valid option for them to consider.

"Our main concern and consideration is that a number of these patients were not offered less invasive, or more conservative, options prior to surgery and for that we are extremely sorry."

A separate clinical review of about 300 private patients at the Spire has yet to be published.