Surgical mesh problems persist

By Chloe Johnson

Carmel Berry has had years of pain. Photo / Doug Sherring
Carmel Berry has had years of pain. Photo / Doug Sherring

Victims of complications with surgical mesh continue to come forward despite an investigation four years ago that ordered improved training for surgeons.

Information obtained by the Herald on Sunday reveals Medsafe was alerted to its first surgical mesh adverse event report in 2005.

It took almost three years - and another 13 complaints - before Medsafe launched an investigation.

By October 2008, ACC had accepted 34 treatment injury claims relating to mesh surgery complications over a period of three years.

Since then, ACC has accepted almost 400 claims and paid out $3.1m for treatment, rehabilitation and compensation - and dozens of those people have approached this paper in recent weeks.

Medsafe documents reported the majority of complications were through surgical mesh eroding inside women's bodies. Other serious incidents included torn tissue and damaged organs.

During the investigation, manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Obex were scrutinised over training provided to surgeons.

Medsafe and the Medical Device Incident Review Committee blamed a lack of adequate training rather than an unsafe product.

"The MDIRC agreed there appeared to be a training issue and recommended an appropriate training programme be put in place by the manufacturers in co-operation with professional organisations such as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to manage problems."

College vice-president Professor Ajay Rane believed too many surgeons were trained too quickly.

"Too many surgeons were trained in too little time and too many operations were done. All of these things lead to, what I believe, is the mesh mess."

However, Rane was confident changes had been made to the way surgeons were trained - both in the college and by manufacturers.

"There is a lot of effort now into standardising the training and, most importantly, placing guidelines for the credentialing of hospitals."

All college fellows could perform mesh surgery, he said. However, it was recommended surgeons who wanted to work with mesh should undergo sub-specialist training.

Medsafe group manager Stewart Jessamine confirmed it would not re-investigate though it was monitoring things.

Pain 'like cactus inside'

Carmel Berry (picture) feels a world of difference just two days after having surgical mesh removed from her body.

"I don't feel like I have a cactus inside me now."

Berry, a 48-year-old mother, said she has been living in pain for eight years since she had an operation to repair a prolapsed bladder.

In 2005, a gynaecological surgeon placed surgical mesh around her vagina to secure weakened tissue and organs.

After months of pain, Berry consulted a different gynaecologist who said the mesh was implanted too tightly and should be removed. Berry had another operation but eventually discovered the mesh was still in place.

This week, however, she went under the knife for the fourth time to have it taken out.

"I feel pain but it is surgical pain. I didn't wake up screaming like I did last time," Berry said from her hospital bed in Auckland.

She said it would take about six weeks to recover and confirm whether it was the mesh that caused most of the complications.

Berry encouraged other victims to have mesh removed and has created a support group called Meshed down under: www.meshdownunder.co.nz.

- Herald on Sunday

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