British mesh investigation paints 'hair raising' picture of 'scandal'

British mesh investigation paints 'hair raising' picture of 'scandal'
Photo credit: Getty

A British investigation reveals how vaginal mesh implant manufacturers, regulators and the medical profession have all been complicit in causing thousands of women unnecessary pain and ongoing complications over the past 20 years.

The two reports by investigative journalist Jonathan Gornall, published by the British Medical Journal, claim manufacturers "aggressively hustled" the products into circulation, that regulators approved them "on the flimsiest of evidence," and that conflicts of interest have been ubiquitous since the product's inception in 1998.

The polypropylene mesh sling or tape, originally designed to surgically treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, replaced a daunting operation involving an average of seven days in hospital and a long recovery period, one report explains.

But, since that time, evidence of poorly managed regulatory procedures and lasting pain and complications for women has steadily increased.

Side-effects can include pain, urinary tract infection, trouble urinating, discharge, bleeding and pain during sexual intercourse, among others.

The reports say the product's life got off to a rocky start when its inventor - Swedish Ulf Ulmsten, in 1997 was paid $1 million in advance of a study to test the safety and effectiveness of a type of vaginal mesh by medical multinational Johnson and Johnson.

Jonson and Johnson deny the payment was linked to the study's outcome.

While Medsafe has restricted the supply of vaginal mesh for gynaecological procedures in New Zealand as of January 4 this year, surgical mesh can still be used in other operations including hernia surgery, a Medsafe spokesperson told Stuff.

Stuff reports ACC paid $13 million across 810 claims for surgical mesh-related injuries in the 12 years to June 2017, and a press release from advocacy group Mesh Down Under states ACC reports such claims to have increased by 34 percent in the year to June 2018, bringing the total to more than 1000.

Carmel Berry, co-founder and leader of Mesh Down Under says the report is just one more reason change is needed in New Zealand.

"The British Medical Journal article that was published this week is an exposé of the culmination of many years of medical colleges, regulators and manufacturers deflecting responsibility for patient harm and in many cases ignoring patient claims," she says.

However, she says some progress is being made.

"We heard just yesterday that Hon James Shaw (Acting Associate Minister of Health) has agreed to our proposal that the Ministry provides an opportunity for all New Zealanders affected by surgical mesh (and that includes men with hernia mesh as well as women, and their families) to be heard via a national 'roadshow'."

Ms Berry says Mesh Down Under will discuss logistics with the Ministry next week.