Wombless women challenge 'scalpel happy surgeons'

Judy Jones Health Correspondent (c2003)

A LEGAL crackdown on 'scalpel happy' gynaecologists who carry out needless hysterectomies is being demanded by a group of women who have had the operation.

One in five women in the UK have their wombs removed. About 75,000 hysterectomies are carried out in Britain each year, and the ovaries are often removed at the same time. One in three operations is done privately. In some areas more than one-third of adult females have had the operation. A study by the King's Fund medical think-tank found that gynaecologists in the Trent Health Region carried out twice as many operations, proportion­ately, as in Yorkshire.

Last month, Jackie Hartley, 38, a teacher from Nunhead, south­east London, accepted a £32,500 out-of-court settlement after the High Court accepted her argument that she had not con­sented to the removal of her womb and ovaries and was the victim of assault and negligence. She is reporting Harley Street gynaecologist John Studd to the General Medical Council. It is thought to be the first legal victory of its kind.


The operation is so common in Sandra Simkin's part of Surrey that it is known in some quarters as 'wombless Woking'. Her uterus, tubes and ovaries were removed two years ago, inducing emotional trauma and severe depression.


Later she discovered that a suspect cyst on her left ovary — the reason for the operation — had not been cancerous as she says she had been led to believe. The ordeal has prompted her to form the Campaign Against Hysterectomy and Unecessary Operations on Women.

'Doctors are castrating women when there is no good medical or surgical reason at all.' she said. 'I was frightened into agreeing to a hysterectomy. I had everything taken away, and there was no need. It's outrageous that we should be treated so lightly.'

Ms Simkin's campaign is supported by about 30 women with similar experiences. It will lobby Parliament for a Women's Medical Protection Act, to place doctors under a legal obligation to inform patients about alternatives, including drug and hormone therapy.

An unpublished study for the Department of Health by Klim McPherson, professor of public health epidemiology at the University of London, is understood to have found that doctors routinely carry out surgery that is difficult to justify for the patient.

Ovaries produce oestrogen, the hormone which helps keep bones healthy. Women who have pre-menopausal hysterectomies that involve ovary removal may need hormone replacement therapy to maintain that protection.


The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists argues that there is no evidence of wide­spread dissatisfaction among women about their operations.


'Women should never have anything done, medically or sur­gically, without full explanation, full consent and communica­tion,' said John Field, a consul­tant gynaecologist at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.


'The vast majority of the patients I talk to are very happy about the treatment they have received.'


Most of the problems are related to lack of communication, according to medical academic Debbie Romney-Alexander, who interviewed more than 100 women for a recent book on the subject, Women Only.

'Hysterectomy is fashionable in some circles. If women have it done for the wrong reasons, it can leave deep psychological prob­lems and unfulfilled expectations that it will help with a sexual problem perhaps. It's all too easy just to blame the doctors, because many women have a very good experience. But many feel pat­ronised and rushed through their consultations.'