The Campaign Against Painful Hysteroscopy is a campaign group raising awareness of the safety flaws that exist within the processes surrounding hysteroscopy procedures for women.
On 20 October 2020, they wrote to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Nadine Dorries MP, Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health. In their letter they used both empirical data and the personal stories of women to illustrate the prevalence and seriousness of the issue.
Dear Matt Hancock and Nadine Dorries,
We ask the DHSC to make provision for all NHS Trusts to work with the RCoA and RCOG to establish safely monitored IV ‘conscious’ sedation with analgesia as a treatment option for hysteroscopy+/-biopsy.
Currently, Trusts put almost all patients through Trial by Outpatient Hysteroscopy and only those patients who fail (usually due to acute pain) are allowed a GA. There is no routine option of IV sedation with analgesia or spinal anaesthesia.
We ask too that NHS Trusts give all hysteroscopy patients upfront a fully informed ‘Montgomery’/ GMC CHOICE of:
o no anaesthetic
o LA / regional / epidural
o IV sedation with analgesia
The choice should be made after thorough discussion with the patient about her medical history, risk factors and preferences.
WHAT IS HYSTEROSCOPY?
Hysteroscopy is endoscopy of the womb. Like colonoscopy, it’s used to detect cancer, pre-cancer and benign abnormalities.
Hysteroscopy done in outpatients with miniature surgical tools enables the removal of polyps and small fibroids without an incision or general anaesthetic [GA].
Here the similarity with colonoscopy ends.
For NHS colonoscopy, the patient is routinely offered a CHOICE of Entonox or IV sedation with analgesia. Some patients request and receive GA. The risk of perforation (and potential death) is less when performed on a patient under IV ‘conscious’ sedation than under GA. The NHS therefore wisely prefers colonoscopy under ‘conscious’ sedation to GA.
NHS colonoscopy services aim to protect patients from severe pain. Apart from assuring basic human respect and dignity, the NHS recognises that people traumatised by a severely painful colonoscopy may delay or not return for vital cancer diagnosis or treatment.
UPDATE FROM THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST PAINFUL HYSTEROSCOPY [CAPH]
Severely painful outpatient hysteroscopy is the next medical scandal after vaginal mesh.
Cheap, quick and easy-to-use NHS vaginal mesh kits helped the majority of patients, and saved precious time and resources. Cheap, quick and easy-ish NHS outpatient hysteroscopy [OPH] without anaesthesia/sedation causes severe pain/distress/trauma to approx. 25% patients and saves precious time and resources.
Like the vaginal mesh campaigners, hysteroscopy patients who’d been seriously harmed by a flawed medical policy started asking questions.
Hysteroscopists assured us that our excruciating and unforgettable pain was very ‘unusual’ and affected only 2% to 5% of patients. This statistic didn’t fit with patients’ observation of OPH clinics. So these ‘unusual’ women started googling, then exchanging stories via social media. Soon they formed into Facebook and Twitter groups. Involved politicians. Interrogated health authorities. Looked for medical explanations. Approached professional colleges and societies. Sought out empathetic and intelligent doctors. Studied the law of informed medical choice and consent.
By 2014 a campaign was born, greatly assisted by Lyn Brown, MP (Lab, West Ham) who was prepared to stick her neck out for her constituents and for other women who’d been traumatised and dismissed as ‘incorrect’ in their perception of hysteroscopy pain. These women were clearly of the ‘wrong demographic’! Too anxious, had too narrow cervical canals, too tilted wombs, were too emotionally labile, too black, too white, too rich, too poor, too educated, too urban...
By early 2020 the Campaign Against Hysteroscopy had amassed a google survey of 1,000+ hideous, predominantly NHS, stories. We sought stories of specifically painful hysteroscopy since our aim was to identify any common features in patients’ medical histories or the operating teams’ conduct of a painful procedure. We hoped that our findings would aid future patient selection and choice. We gave our results to the Presidents of RCOG and the British Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy. The survey’s free text was shocking:
- It was barbaric and one of the most painful experiences of my life including vaginal childbirth.
- I begged them to stop but they wouldn’t. It was like torture
- It was a terrible experience that I don’t think I will ever forget
Just before lockdown, the Health Service Journal published an analysis of our survey [Matt Discombe, HSJ, 2 March 2020]
“Around 520 women who attended NHS hospitals in England to undergo hysteroscopies — a procedure which uses narrow telescopes to examine the womb to diagnose the cause of heavy or abnormal bleeding — have told a survey their doctors carried on with their procedures even when they were in severe pain.”
We continued our on-going survey, asking about pre/post-menopausal status; vaginal/caesarean delivery/nulliparity; endometriosis/dysmenorrhea/previous traumatic gynae; mental health; hospital information about pain risk; choice of LA/GA/IV sedation; pain-scores at different OPH stages; whether the hysteroscopist stopped if the patient was in pain/distressed; preferred mode of future hysteroscopy, etc.
At the end of the survey we asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?”
- I was given a brown paper bag to breath into as I hyperventilate with the pain. The male consultant made fun of me.
- Anaesthetic should be compulsory, I have a high pain threshold but was most painful thing I have ever felt, still feeling traumatised after the event. Staff were appalling. 5 nurses and doctor laughed when they could see I was in terrible pain, shocking
- The pain after the procedure was finished, was excruciating, body started to go into shock. Ended up in A&E pumped full of morphine and admitted overnight for observation. Never again unless under GA.
- Ask them if they are in pain rather than asking them about their last holiday whilst their uterus is dilated.
- I am a midwife myself and spoke to the consultant explaining how anxious I felt regarding the procedure, as I had had a very painful / difficult removal of mirena coil previously and been told I had a cervical stenosis: I asked could I have sedation and was declined saying it would only be “ brief discomfort” and to just take painkillers a couple of hours before
- At one point that evening I was so confused and in pain, feeling sick and with a high resting heart rate that I nearly called an ambulance. I was alone. Nobody suggested I should have someone at home with me.
- Felt embarrassed because of yelling (due to the incredibly sharp pain)
- The doctor and nurse were fine but I was screaming in pain and doctor counted down from 10 to 1 to try to get me to hold on until she could finish it
- Gas and air made me feel light headed but made absolutely no difference to the pain I experienced.
The Cumberlege Review ‘First Do No Harm’ of July 2020 categorised breaches of patient safety into themes. [https://www.immdsreview.org.uk/Report.html] Three of these themes sum up the current harms caused by an over-zealous, blanket NHS policy of reduced-cost OPH:
Cumberlege Theme 1, "No-one is listening" – Hysteroscopists lack empathy; they ignore patients’ requests for GA and fail to stop when the patient is in distress.
Cumberlege Theme 3, "I was never told" - Hysteroscopists fail to warn patients of the risk of severe pain and don’t tell patients upfront that they have the option of GA.
Cumberlege Theme 10, "Collecting what matters" - Hysteroscopists are wilfully blind to Patient Reported Outcomes – they belittle and don’t record the patients’ own short-term, medium-term and long-term outcomes when these cause severe pain and PTSD. CAPH has frequently heard of hysteroscopists telling GPs that a crying patient “tolerated the procedure well”.
WHAT IS THE DATA ON HYSTEROSCOPY PAIN?
Just as with vaginal mesh, very few gynaecologists have systematically collected pain scores from all their OPH patients. When OPH pain-scores are reported in English journals usually only the median or mean scores are given. Hundreds of members of our Action/Support group were never asked for a pain-score.
NHS OPH pain audits obtained by CAPH under the Freedom of Information Act shows that currently 1 in 4 NHS England hysteroscopy outpatients typically suffers severe pain of 7/10 or more. [ www.whatdotheyknow.com - see ‘Outpatient hysteroscopy/biopsy’]
The British Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy’s 2019 bespoke 81-hospital survey of 5,000+ hysteroscopy patients from BSGE members’ own NHS clinics reports a mean pain-score of 5.2/10. So clearly it’s not the “mild discomfort” that most patient leaflets claim. Nor is it now feasible to say that severe pain is experienced by only 2-5% of patients. [ www.bsge.org.uk BSGE Ambulatory Care Network Meeting Feb 2020] CAPH has asked for the full range of BSGE members’ OPH pain-scores under FOIA.
The British Journal of Anaesthesia this year published a review evaluating patients’ reported pain compared with hysteroscopists’ assessment of OPH pain over 8 years at Royal Berkshire Trust – a good clinic which is barely mentioned in our survey. [Harrison, Salomons 2020]. 17.6% of patients reported severe pain of 7/10 or more, while 7.8% reported no pain. The authors concluded that since patients were likely to experience pain then they should be warned of this.
WHAT DOES THE NHS TELL PATIENTS ABOUT HYSTEROSCOPY PAIN?
NHS hysteroscopy services appear to follow ex-Cancer Tsar Prof Sean Duffy’s opinion “Overall we think that too much emphasis is put on the issue of pain surrounding outpatient hysteroscopy.” [BMJ. 2001 Jan 6; 322(7277): 47] Patient leaflets almost invariably tell women to expect “mild discomfort”, on a par with moderate period pain. So, without any pre-op assessment the NHS pushes almost all women through Trial by Outpatient Hysteroscopy and reserves GA for those who ‘fail’.
The womb endoscopy patient is NOT routinely offered the option of GA. If she asks for one, the request is usually declined – even before the covid-19 pandemic. Thus the vast majority of NHS clinics wilfully ignore the RCOG/BSGE 2018 statement instructing gynaecologists to offer all hysteroscopy patients the choice of GA up-front, and to stop an OPH if the patient is distressed. [https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/gtg59/]
Yes, there are some excellent, highly skilled and compassionate OPH clinics but, sadly, most put cost-effectiveness before compassion or ‘Montgomery’ informed patient choice, thus denying patients genuine informed consent.
Most hospital leaflets tell patients to take over-the-counter meds from home. There is no pre-med in clinic. The woman gets a ‘vocal local’ – hairdresser chit-chat- pioneered in rural Kenya by Marie Stopes. The woman is sometimes held down if distressed and agitated. She may receive potentially painful injections into the cervix as ‘rescue analgesia’. Unfortunately the cervical LA doesn’t anaesthetise the top of the womb, from which the cancer-detecting biopsy is taken. [www.bsge.org.uk Ambulatory Care Network 2020 Keynote Speaker on ‘patchy and unpredictable’ cervical LA]
WHAT DOES THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST PAINFUL HYSTEROSCOPY WANT?
1. Every single NHS hospital to use – at the very least – the RCOG patient leaflet (CAPH helped write) which
- mentions the risk of SEVERE pain
- outlines clinical risk-factors for severe pain
- offers patients upfront the option of a GA/IV sedation with analgesia
2. The DHSC and RCOG to work with the Royal College of Anaesthetists to train hysteroscopy teams and establish safe IV conscious sedation with analgesia as a CHOICE available to all womb endoscopy patients.
3. The DHSC to permanently remove any Best Practice Tariff or financial incentive which removes timely access to GA, IV sedation with analgesia or other anaesthetist supported service.
4. A pre-op assessment for all hysteroscopy patients, meaning an end to ‘See & Treat’ clinics, which often coerce women into polyp and fibroid removal without patients having time to consider whether they’d prefer GA/ IV sedation/ regional anaesthesia rather than a local which doesn’t anaesthetise the top of the womb. The current ‘One-Stop’ clinic endangers women who attend the clinic alone and then have to drive or travel home on their own, often in severe pain, bleeding and traumatised. This is unacceptable and must stop.
5. Standardised, regulated, updated high quality training and accreditation for all hysteroscopists together with up to date equipment. Hysteroscopists should be taught to recognise cohorts at high risk of severe pain, develop listening skills and treat women with respect.
6. Full transparency about the financial sponsorship of NHS hysteroscopists’ training by the medical devices industry and the resulting bias towards particular manufacturers’ preferences and cost-effectiveness rather than patient experience.
7. Severe procedural pain to be classed and recorded as a Serious Adverse Event.
Elaine Falkner (Chair), Pamela Howe (Secretary), Jocelyn Lewis, Lorraine Shilcock, Denise Shafeie, Gill Johnson, Katharine Tylko (on behalf of)
The Campaign Against Painful Hysteroscopy
Facebook: Campaign Against Painful Hysteroscopy