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WA women sue over medical device

Joining the fight: Perth mother-of-three Ruth de Smit. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Dozens of WA women look set to take on medical giant Johnson & Johnson in a class action that could become Australia's biggest.

The women claim they suffered painful and devastating side effects from a device to repair prolapses, which can be caused by childbirth and pregnancy.

At least nine West Australians are among 300 Australians who have joined the class action - launched by Shine Lawyers in October.

Shine confirmed this week that about 34 women from across the State - including 24 from Perth - had contacted the firm.

The devices are designed to repair pelvic organ prolapse, which happens when the tissue that holds the pelvic organs in place becomes weak or stretched.

Perth mother-of-three Ruth de Smit, 63, is one of the WA women who has joined the legal fight.

Mrs de Smit suffered prolapse through childbirth and had a mesh implant in October 2006.

She has had six operations.

"It's affected so much of my husband's and my life," she said.

Shine partner Rebecca Jancauskas said the allegations included the devices were not fit for their purpose and not fit for sale.

She said it was estimated at least 30,000 implants had been used in Australia, meaning the action had the potential to be Australia's biggest product class action.

Ms Jancauskas said the complications allegedly suffered by some women included incontinence, chronic pain and mesh erosion and many needed to have the devices removed.

Johnson & Johnson voluntarily removed its mesh product from the Australian market last year.

A spokeswoman said the company had discontinued some of its pelvic mesh products "for reasons unrelated to the safety or efficacy".

In 2010, Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration reviewed urogynaecological meshes and found complications were low.

It said the skill of the surgeon, the patient and procedure were important.