Doctors alerted by pill test case

A major question mark has long hung over the potential side effects of oral contraceptives, which have been blamed for a variety of long- and short-term ailments.

Despite this, a major personal injury test case against a doctor who prescribed the brand of contraceptive pill called Logynon has ended in defeat for the claimant.

The action, which was dismissed by Mr Justice Alliott, may still end up going to the Court of Appeal. It was launched by 32-year-old Leena Vadera.

About a month after being put on the pill she suffered a catastrophic stroke which has left her completely paralysed. Vadera's sight, hearing and intellect are unaffected but her only means of communication is by eye movement. The stroke took place shortly before she was due to be married.

The case for Vadera was taken on by central London solicitor Angena Bhagwandeen, practising as Bhagwandeen & Co, City Road, and was argued in the High Court by Raymond Croxon QC.

Bhagwandeen said she believed the case was the first of its kind to reach the courts. The initial obstacle to be overcome was getting legal aid.

Given Vadera's circumstances, this was essential, and, in view of the heavyweight legal representation lined up by the defence, it was the sort of case unlikely ever to be privately funded.

Apart from the initial hurdle of funding it was, said Bhagwandeen, a difficult case to put together because it was apparent from the outset that, in order to establish negligence and causation, important medical, scientific and factual claims had to be proven.

The history of this type of litigation, coupled with the fact that an estimated 60 million women use the contraceptive pill worldwide, also left no one in any doubt that it would be an uphill task.

Bhagwandeen nevertheless believed that, because her client suffered a stroke without warning just a month after being prescribed the pill, it was a case that had to be taken the whole way. She also found the decision that the stroke could not be blamed on the pill difficult to reconcile with the facts and her client's medical history.

Although the judge rejected Vadera's claim, Bhagwandeen hoped that the case would make its mark by alerting the medical profession to the need to warn women fully about the risks the pill can pose and the need to go fully into medical backgrounds before prescribing.

"There are many women out there who go to their GPs and are prescribed oral contraceptives without any of the risks being explained to them. In very rare instances, these can be very dangerous drugs and women should be aware of what can happen," she said.

"Doctors have a duty to explain the risks to their patients and to ensure there are no contra-indications and to explain that if there are any unusual symptoms they should come back to the GP immediately.

"If this case has done nothing else I hope it has alerted the medical profession to this need and alerted women proposing to go on to the pill of the potential risks."