Nearly 800 women are taking legal action against the NHS after being fitted with vaginal mesh implants, which are supposed to support organs which have prolapsed and prevent incontinence after childbirth.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme reports that the women are suing both the NHS and the pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, who are responsible for producing the mesh as they claim it has left them with chronic pain, and in some cases unable to walk or have sex, with some of the women even reporting that their partners had been injured by the device.
One woman told the BBC the implant had “cut” through her vagina and left her unable to work due to the pain. Another said she had had her womb wrongly removed in response to the pain she reported, three years after having the mesh installed. Most of the women interviewed for the show said they wanted to take legal action as they had never been told by surgeons about the potential risk of the implant.
The implants are made from netted plastic, the same material that is used to make plastic bottles, and there are around 100 different types.
The NHS website lists vaginal meshes as one possible treatment for vaginal prolapse, commonly used to provide further support to the vaginal wall or other organs after surgery to prevent further collapse. It states that currently, around 1,500 of the treatments are carried out each year and acknowledges that while most people respond well to the treatment, there are reports of complications to the MHRA.
It recommends asking your GP about alternative procedures and the potential complications associated with the mesh and its removal before going ahead with the procedure.
According to stats obtained by the BBC, 92,000 women had the implants fitted in England in the eight-year period between April 2007 and March 2015. The NHS data suggests that one in 11 of these women has experienced issues following the fitting.
In defense of the products, a Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency spokesman said: "The greater proportion of the clinical community and patients support the use of these devices in the UK." They said they will endeavor to address the concerns of patients.
Owen Smith, Labour MP, is planning a Parliamentary debate on the use of vaginal mesh and says there needs to be an investigation into their use.
"I think there is a really good case for saying 'suspend its usage' until there is clarity about the scale of the problems we're facing,” he told the BBC.
This is not an isolated problem, as thousands of women in the US have successfully sued manufacturers of vaginal mesh after experiencing similar problems and have received payouts of several billion dollars as a result. Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson was accused of neglecting to tell patients and doctors about the risks and complications related to mesh.