More than 800 women in the UK are taking legal action against the NHS and the manufacturers of vaginal mesh implants after suffering severe discomfort caused by the devices.
Between April 2007 and March 2015, more than 92,000 women had vaginal mesh implants fitted in England, according to NHS data obtained by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. Women have the implants to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence after childbirth. The data also shows that about one in 11 women has experienced problems with the mesh cutting into the vagina and causing severe discomfort. Some women have been left in permanent pain, unable to walk, work or have sex.
The claims could lead to the NHS paying out tens of millions of pounds.
Johnson & Johnson is the biggest maker of mesh implants, through its subsidiary company Ethicon. The BBC has obtained an email from the pharmaceutical company which suggests that it had suspected that it had problems with the implants as early as 2004. The email said the company needed to start a “major damage control offensive” because “the competition will have a field day”.
However, the US giant said that highlighting this email in isolation was “extremely misleading” and Ethicon, said it would “vigorously” defend any litigation.
The plastic meshes are made of polypropylene, which is the same material used to make certain drinks bottles and is manufactured by many different companies. There are around 100 types of vaginal mesh implants in the UK and not one model has been recalled to date.
Professor Carl Heneghan has told the BBC that manufacturers have to provide little evidence before their product is clinically approved and made available on the NHS. He said that manufacturers just have to provide documents that show their vaginal mesh implant is similar to one already on the market, after which it is highly likely to be approved.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says the use of vaginal mesh implants is safe and effective for the majority of women, The meshes are still prescribed on the NHS across the UK, although a recent review in Scotland concluded that they should not be routinely used for pelvic organ prolapse.