The UK government has been asked to apologise to women who have suffered years of pain after their concerns over medical procedures and drugs were written off as “women’s problems.”

Back in January 2014, I wrote a blog post on Infonetica’s sister website about vaginal mesh implants and how they highlight potential weaknesses in medical device testing – you can read it [here]

Now more than 700 women and their families have shared with an enquiry their harrowing experiences with vaginal mesh, pregnancy test Primodos and epilepsy drug sodium valproate.

The chair of the review is Baroness Julia Cumberlege who was reportedly shocked by the “sheer scale” and “intensity of suffering.”

The review looked at –

  • Vaginal mesh implants – used to treat prolapse and incontinence. Due to the kinds on concerns I mentioned back in 2014, they are now only offered on the NHS under exceptional circumstances and high vigilance.
  • Primodos – a hormone-based pregnancy test, thought to be associated with birth defects and miscarriages. Despite being withdrawn from the market in 1978, the manufacturer, Schering (now a part of Bayer), denies any link between the drug and deformities in babies.
  • Sodium valproate – an epilepsy drug. Effective at preventing seizures but can cause a range of side effects in the children of women who took it whilst pregnant. These include physical deformity, autism and developmental delay.  

Having recently presented a webinar on pharmacovigilance, I find these especially shocking. The whole process of tracking and reporting on adverse drug reactions was largely prompted by failures over the use of thalidomide in pregnant women.

Back in the 1960s, there were no effective mechanisms to capture and react to adverse drug reactions – especially once a drug had been launched on the market.

Nowadays it is very different – or at least, it is supposed to be!

According to the review, hundreds of babies are being born each year to mothers “unaware” of the risks that sodium valproate can pose in pregnancy.

The review has made several recommendations –

  • An independent patient safety commissioner to hold the health system to account
  • Payment schemes to meet the financial care costs of those already affected
  • An agency to help resolve future disputes
  • Greater transparency of payments made to doctors by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

It is hard not to blame institutional misogyny for many of these failings.

I really find it hard to believe that the situation would have been the same had the mesh been used to treat prostate cancer, or the drugs used to reduce blood pressure.

Will the government issue an apology?

Health minister, Nadine Dorries, is apparently “determined” to make changes needed to protect women in the future.

Let’s hope so.


Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith

Ashley is Infonetica's Account Manager, who makes sure that all our clients continue to get the products and support they need - especially during the pandemic. As one of the longest standing members of the team he has worked in most parts of the business and so understands how all the products fit together into a coherent package. Ashley likes to listen to music, especially his favourite group: Orbital.