Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has withdrawn from the Australian market its supply of the vaginal mesh device that is the subject of a class action before the federal court.
On Tuesday a spokeswoman for Australia’s medical devices regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, confirmed to Guardian Australia that the mid-urethral vaginal sling devices, used to treat stress urinary incontinence in women, were no longer being imported.
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The devices are produced by the Johnson & Johnson company Ethicon and no longer appear on the Australian Therapeutic Goods Register, which is a list of products that can be lawfully supplied in Australia. The TGA has not responded to questions about whether the removal of the products from the register also means that products already on hospital shelves cannot be used by surgeons.
The TGA asked all manufacturers of transvaginal sling and mesh devices to update the “instructions for use” on transvaginal mesh and tape products before 17 January to include information about possible adverse events such as severe chronic pain, groin pain and bladder perforation.
According to the TGA, Johnson & Johnson did not meet this deadline and withdrew the supply of their mid-urethral sling devices to enable them to consider their options. A list of pharmaceutical companies that have met the new requirements has been made public.
The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Steve Robson, told Guardian Australia he had written to all members to alert them to the development. It was his understanding that Johnson & Johnson slings already on hospital shelves could still be used but new supplies could not be imported.
Robson said he did not have “exact figures”, but the Johnson & Johnson devices were probably the most widely used by surgeons to treat incontinence.
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“What I have heard is once the stock on the shelf is gone that’s it, and many hospitals, if not most, are looking at other options including other brands of urethral tape, which are still available,” Robson said.
“The feedback is some places are exploring transition arrangements so women can be offered other similar products. What I also wrote to our members yesterday was that it is clear mid-urethral tapes are the most appropriate response to incontinence which has not responded to other clinical treatment. We recirculated a Cochrane review that shows that mid-urethral tapes are the most appropriate treatment when used appropriately, and are very safe.
“In fact, I think it’s regrettable it won’t be available for a while, but there are other similar products.”
The Johnson & Johnson/Ethicon implant became the subject of a class action run by Shine Lawyers in 2017, with 700 Australian women alleging that faulty pelvic mesh implants caused them debilitating pain.
Similar class actions involving thousands of women are also under way in the UK and US. More than 100,000 transvaginal mesh lawsuits have been filed in the US, the largest number against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the most commonly used meshes. Shine Lawyers alleges Johnson & Johnson failed to properly test the devices and played down their risk to both surgeons and patients.
A Senate inquiry has examined whether any financial or other incentives have been provided to medical practitioners to use or promote transvaginal mesh implants; the lack of data available on how many procedures were performed; and the type and incidence of health problems woman have experienced.
The class action is due to return to the federal court in Sydney on Monday.
Johnson & Johnson has been contacted for comment.
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