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Women share harrowing accounts of painful NHS hysteroscopies: 'I begged the doctor to stop'

This month, Big Issue revealed that thousands of NHS patients are facing excruciating outpatient hysteroscopies without adequate pain relief. The response from you has been overwhelming

Illustration of hysteroscopy

Two weeks ago we published a damning investigation into the terrible pain thousands of women face when undergoing vital outpatient hysteroscopy – a procedure to examine the inside of the uterus to detect cancer and other abnormalities. After we revealed some of the specific horrors individual women faced during this procedure – a test which The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found left one in three women in severe pain, rating it at least seven out of 10 – you came to us to tell us how you too had been impacted.

Campaigners believe the NHS is failing to inform patients of the risks, or their options for pain relief.

Your experiences of feeling ignored, dismissed and shamed after feeling pain in hysteroscopies and other procedures was manifest. We thank you for sharing and we decided to devote these pages to giving you your voice.

We don’t want to stop. We want to hear more. We’d like to build as many voices as we can and support the work of activists including the Campaign Against Painful Hysteroscopy. Here are some of your responses and stories:

I just wanted to thank you for this piece. I’m in tears reading it. I had an awful experience shortly after my mum died of womb cancer – I was panicking and so distressed, with no pain relief at all and a person just getting really irritated – he just kept shouting “You want this done or not?!” I eventually walked out. Had it done later under a general anaesthetic. The worst about it was being judged by other women. Even my wife, who was with me, was laughing. It’s so brutal and there’s this sort of toxic alpha femininity you have to live up to. It’s so validating and emotional to read your piece and know that I’m not just fragile. Thank you so very much. Anonymous

This is exactly how women are dealt with when they have a colposcopy [cervical examination] procedure. They say you may feel “mild discomfort”, but I can tell you it isn’t. You still feel like you’ve been lied to, treated like a farm animal and denied any kind of pain relief when they are cutting pieces of your cervix out to send for sample testing. Disgusting. They wouldn’t do it to a man. The whole thing is shocking and patients feel violated afterward. Women’s health is dealt with very poorly indeed. Laura

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Thank you for covering the hysteroscopy experience. Knowing you’re not the only one to have suffered is helpful. I have had many more of these procedures after a severely painful hysteroscopy – but in theatre, unconscious. It is the humane way. Denise

Traumatised by my last hysteroscopy; too scared to follow up. I can’t go through that again, it was brutal. I begged the doctor to stop. Lynda

I had an appointment for hysteroscopy as they found a mass on my scan. The hysteroscopy was performed, which was painful, and I was advised they were going to remove the polyp there and then and offered no pain relief. I felt as though someone was pulling my insides out. The process was barbaric, like something from Victorian times. I had to go back for a second biopsy; I refused and then was offered a local – and the second one was not painful. Nichola

I was amazed to read your gender pain article. I have had multiple painful and upsetting gynaecological examinations my whole adult life. The most traumatic of which was last year – an hour long “procedure” where my legs were in stirrups and cold water was pumped into my uterus while different implements were inserted (one being a Hegar dilator – a metal rod that looks like a torture device or something that should belong in a heavy-duty tool box). I had only paracetamol, taken beforehand on my own initiative. I came away really upset – mainly because I felt that it was inconceivable that in 2023 women are still at the mercy of a terribly outdated approach to gynaecological treatment. I felt angry that my two daughters and millions of young women will have to put up with what my generation and those before us had to suffer. It is traumatic, painful and undignified. At the time I wanted to do something to try and raise my voice but was at a loss as to who I should contact or what to do. You can imagine my amazement, relief and glimmer of hope when I read your article. Caitlin

I have ulcerative colitis and have therefore had a number of colonoscopies. They always say you can have sedation but they definitely try to persuade you that you do not need it. I appreciate they need to save money and I am very grateful to have the care that I have, but I had a colonoscopy that was extremely painful. I was crying and feeling sick. I felt as though I had been assaulted. I only found out later that I had been given a painkiller but no sedative. I didn’t complain as I knew they were trying to work through a backlog. I am glad to say that the latest colonoscopy I had was much better and with sedation. As always, The Big Issue raises very important issues. Anonymous

I was in pain after a hip replacement operation and am quite/very resilient to drugs. Though initially told I could have decent pain control, it was sometimes withheld by some nurses and doctors. One doctor told me that unless I was “writhing on the floor”, I was not in real pain! Karen

So often women’s pain is dismissed by the medical establishment. Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the women’s equality party

I bled through my clothes onto the hospital bed immediately after my hysteroscopy. They gave me new underwear and paracetamol and told me to rest if I could. Rachel Charlton-Dailey

Also breast screening. I was standing with my breasts stuck in the machine thinking I would pass out. I kept saying please stop; the screener repeatedly replied, “Nearly done”. She didn’t appear to understand that at the moment I said “stop” my consent for this procedure had been withdrawn. So not only do the staff involved inflict pain, many might lack a proper understanding of consent. Which implies a need for better training. @BartinDdu10

Same with cervical punch biopsies and curettage. I fainted with the pain. @hanson_pb

Mine was as I would believe witches were tortured many centuries ago. In my 70s, nulliparous but no history taken, no consent – zero. I fainted and vomited. The procedure was then rearranged under general anaesthetic, so I had trial by outpatient. A cruel practice. @Gray1982June

[Your article] is so important for women to read as our NHS trusts are not giving informed consent. Little did I know at the time I was ill-informed! I’ll never be duped again. @Denisessh

I had a barbaric hysteroscopy during which I passed out because of unbearable pain. There were at least three red flags that were contraindications to me having this procedure without general anaesthetic or pain relief. I did not give my informed consent, and was gaslighted so successfully by the doctor, who indicated that my experience was almost unheard of, and I was blamed for my reaction, so that I did not complain. I later found out that my experience was far from unusual. Georgina

I too had an agonising hysteroscopy – I had been offered outpatient or general anaesthetic but chose outpatient as it was quick and I didn’t know how painful a hysteroscopy could be. I took the ibuprofen and paracetamol. The nurse talked inane, hairdresser-y talk and asked about where I’d travelled from today, while I was about to faint, vomiting and in excruciating pain. The consultant called a halt, and after cleaning myself up, I went home. I had it subsequently under spinal anaesthetic and it went well. If I’d known I was high risk for pain and that a spinal was possible, I’d never have attempted it this way, it was just awful. Sheena

It is a sadness but also a HUGE comfort to hear that other women have been brutalised in the same way and are speaking up about it. It really must stop – it’s cruel. Thank you for covering this important topic. The horror of it is played down and women are led to believe they’re the only ones to have such a “dramatic” reaction to it. J

I am so pleased to see you highlight the scandal of outpatient hysteroscopies. I had mine a decade ago and still get flashbacks. If anyone treated an animal in this way and caused so much pain there would be serious repercussions – but in the NHS it’s seen as totally fine. Women are even made to feel like they’re making a fuss. I was certainly gaslit and made to feel like a total baby for showing any pain. Jane

After an ultrasound scan, [I saw a] consultant who explained I needed a hysteroscopy. He gave me the option of no anaesthesia, or with anaesthesia. I chose no anaesthesia. The consultant couldn’t get the probe into my uterus, despite my taking paracetamol and ibuprofen beforehand, he also tried local anaesthetic. It got pretty painful, and he stopped. I successfully had the procedure under anaesthetic in mid-January 2024. I was fully satisfied and impressed by the medical care I received. Caroline

I had a very painful hysteroscopy and my experience was very similar to the ladies in your article. My right to a general anaesthetic wasn’t explained. I was told that “a few women are unable to tolerate the procedure” and they would be offered it again under a general. It was just awful. I am overdue my smear test but just can’t seem to make myself arrange one, the idea makes me so anxious. This barbaric treatment of women needs to stop. Joanne

Have you undergone a painful hysteroscopy, or another examination that has left you in pain and feeling you were not listened to? We want to hear from you. Email editorial@bigissue.com 

Complete the Campaign Against Painful Hysteroscopy’s anonymous dissatisfaction survey here

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