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Review finds worries dismissed as "women's problems"

View profile for Guy Pomphrey
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Have your concerns about medical treatment been dismissed by your doctor?

In 2018 the then Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced a Safety Review into how the NHS responds to concerns from patients about harmful side effects from medicines and medical devices.

It was reported that medical complications and complaints were dismissed as “women’s problems”.

Review chair, Baroness Julia Cumberlege, recently commented that the system’s response – or lack of it – has added to people’s suffering and pain. She added much of this suffering was entirely avoidable, caused and compounded by failings in the health system itself.

The Review findings (following 2 years work) have now been published in the First Do No Harm report.

It found that over 700 people from across the UK whose lives have been affected by complications arising from three medical interventions: Primodos, Sodium Valproate and Pelvic Mesh.


Primodos is a hormone pregnancy test which was taken by women between the 1950s and 1970s. It is associated with causing significant and life-long injuries to babies whose mothers used the test.

The Review found that the Primodos pregnancy test was being used for years longer than it should have been. A non-invasive alternative pregnancy test was available by 1967 and the Review found that the concerns about Primodos being expressed at that time should have led Regulatory action.

Sodium Valproate

Sodium valproate is commonly used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines.

This medicine can be harmful if it is taken during pregnancy and can damage the unborn baby. This information was widely known but the Review found that some pregnant women were not specifically informed about the risks of sodium valproate by their doctor prior to their pregnancies and others were incorrectly told by healthcare professional that problems to their unborn child could be fixed.

Pelvic Mesh

Pelvic mesh is sometimes used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.

Many women have suffered complications, chronic pain, sexual difficulties, reduced mobility and psychological strain following pelvic mesh surgery. On reporting these types of symptoms, many of these injured women said that their doctors simply "ignored or dismissed" their concerns.

In 2018, The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review recommended stopping mesh procedures for stress urinary incontinence. The recommendation was immediately accepted by NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care. Mesh being used to treat urinary incontinence was therefore only allowed in exceptional circumstances which resulted in the number of mesh procedures declining from July 2018 onwards.

What recommendations did the Review make?

The Safety Review key recommendations were:

  1. The Government immediately issue a fulsome apology on behalf of the NHS healthcare system to the patients and families affected by Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh.
  2. A Patient Safety Commissioner be appointed to champion the value of listening to patients and promote improvements in patient safety around medicines and medical devices.
  3. A new independent Redress Agency is established to deal with patients harmed by medicines and medical devices.
  4. Separate Redress Schemes be set up to meet the cost of providing care and support to eligible patients who have been injured as a result of treatment with Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh.
  5. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency needs substantial revision particularly in relation to adverse event reporting and medical device regulation.

As a clinical negligence solicitor, I welcome these recommendations because they encourage open discussion about healthcare treatment, decisions and mistakes. When patients are harmed due to poor medical care, the NHS must listen, learn and make sure the same mistakes do not happen again.

We will have to wait and see whether the Government acts upon these important recommendations.

Claiming medical negligence compensation

If you have experienced complications or avoidable harm arising from medicines or medical devices you may be able to claim medical negligence compensation. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to claim for pain and suffering, loss of amenity and loss of earnings.

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