A new report from Panorama will reveal the extent of the vaginal mesh scandal tonight, a week after the death of one of its most prominent opponents, 42-year-old campaigner Chrissy Brajcic.
The programme will show how the distributor of vaginal mesh in the UK, Ethicon, failed to tell doctors about the full extent of the risks of its Gynecare TVT mesh, which can include nerve damage, chronic pain and organ erosion. This in turn can lead to infections, as well as sepsis, as in Chrissy Brajcic’s case. It will also reveal how one of its implants was launched in 2006 after only being tested on 31 women and sheep before being used in patients – later being withdrawn from the market in 2012.
Currently used to treat prolapse and incontinence in around 10,000 women per year in the UK, a transvaginal mesh procedure involves implanting a netted mesh device made from polypropylene into the vaginal wall.
Now there is mounting evidence that the side-effects of such a procedure are more dangerous than at first believed, with many women involved in lawsuits against the mesh manufacturers in the UK, US and Australia. It has been dubbed ‘the biggest health scandal since thalidomide’, referring to the morning sickness drug that was given to women in the ‘50s that caused birth defects.
Brajcic had the procedure four years ago after the birth of her son. A few hours after her surgery she complained of her pain worsening, and was eventually left bedridden with nerve damage. A year later she had the mesh removed which led to constant urinary tract infections, and she died after she became resistant to antibiotics and contracted sepsis. She had campaigned against mesh procedures passionately until her death.
The report comes after a doctor told the BBC last week that she didn’t believe that vaginal mesh should be banned, as it would set us back a hundred years in terms of medicinal science and options for women.
‘If mesh is banned, there will be no more clinical trials,’ said Professor Linda Cardozo of King’s College Hospital in London. ‘Banning it is a retrograde step - we will go back to how we were a century ago when we couldn't offer women a range of options. We need to be very careful that [mesh] is used in the right women by the right doctors... who have explained the risk-benefit ratio and all other types of treatment.’
While some women have suffered complications from vaginal mesh, others have credited it with improving their lives for the better, such as Kathryn Taylor, who has had two implants to help a condition that weakened the muscles around her uterus and bowel. She told the BBC: ‘Mesh isn't right for everyone, but it's totally changed my life for the better. Without it I wouldn't be able to work and lead a normal life. I'd have to have a colostomy bag attached to my leg.’