More than 800 women in the UK are planning on taking legal action against the NHS and the makers of vaginal mesh implants, including the giant pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Ethicon, that have caused them to be in crippling pain and agony.

The vaginal implants were fixed in women to treat post-childbirth conditions of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Made from synthetic polypropylene, the same material used to make plastic bottles, while also sometimes being made of animal tissue, the mesh is said to improve a woman’s bladder control.

However, the implantation technique and design have caused the mesh to cut through the women’s vagina walls, resulting in chronic pain and discomfort. At least 92,000 women had a vaginal mesh implant in England in the eight years up to March 2015, with almost 10% experiencing problems.

Women left with permanent pain and damage

The victims of the procedure have been reported to be unable to walk, work or have sexual intercourse due to the excruciating pain. One woman even describes the mesh implant as “barbaric”.

Kate Langley, one such patient had to stop working when the pain became unbearable. The surgeon that had been examining her mesh implant noted that, “the mesh tape had come through the vagina, protruding through.”

Langley has had 53 hospital admissions in an attempt to end the pain, but due to the mesh placement being so close to the nerve, it could not be fully removed. She is unfortunately left to deal with permanent pain and nerve damage.

Another victim, Claire Cooper, began experiencing pain three years after the implantation. Doctors could not correctly identify the source of the pain which led her to contemplate suicide.

"I wouldn't at all be surprised if there are mesh-injured women that have taken their own lives and didn't know what the problem was," she said. In turn, Cooper is among the women to call on NHS to ban the vaginal mesh implants.

Patients uninformed of risks of the implant

Dr Sohier Eineil, a consultant urogynaecologist, who removes the implants for women who are suffering the complications, sees such patients that are going through severe pain caused by the mesh implants.

"The typical type of patient I see is a patient who is incapacitated by severe pain of a chronic nature. Often they are on high-dose medication, including opiates,” she says. “They become so incapacitated that many of them are either walking by crutches or sitting in wheelchairs and perhaps more dramatically so, they become unable to look after their families.”

Many of the women claimed that they had never been told the implications of the vaginal mesh implant. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says for the majority of women, the use of vaginal mesh implants is safe and effective. However, MHRA states that it “sympathises” with the women affected.

A spokesman for the MHRA said the organisation was “committed to help address the serious concerns raised by some patients.” He added, “The greater proportion of the clinical community and patients support the use of these devices in the UK.”

Loose regulation on medical devices

There are over 100 types of vaginal mesh implants available in the UK and they are still prescribed on the NHS across the country, all the while without a single model being recalled.

According to one expert, Prof Carl Heneghan, an Oxford University expert in evidence-based medicine, manufacturers have to provide little evidence before their product is clinically approved and made available on the NHS.

He states that manufacturers only require documents to show that their vaginal mesh implant is similar to one already on the market and it is highly likely to be approved.

“The regulatory body... doesn't even look at the device,” said Heneghan.
Should the lawsuit against NHS be successful, experts believe that the payout compensation could be tens of millions of pounds. In the US, thousands of women have sued manufacturers, receiving payouts that total several billion dollars. MIMS

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