The pelvic mesh device scandal reveals where medicine has lost its way

THE traditional relationship between doctor and patient is understood to rely on trust – if your life is in the hands of the doctor in front of you, you’d like to think you can trust that he or she will have your best interests as a priority.

It’s a breach of this trust that women implanted with some pelvic mesh devices feel.

They believed some doctors who said mesh would fix their incontinence and prolapse problems after childbirth. They believed those doctors operated within a system that would weed out risks to patient safety early. What we’re discovering now is how vulnerable too many women were when it came to pelvic mesh devices – all of which remain classified as medium to high risk, even those described by some doctors as being “the gold standard”.

For the past three years the Newcastle Herald has explored how too many women came to suffer devastating, permanent and life-altering injuries after they received mesh implants for what were, in the main, relatively minor incontinence and prolapse issues where alternative remedies were often available.

A Senate inquiry, established in February after a campaign by the Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group, backed by the Herald, has already heard evidence from doctors that could be classified as concerning.

Two doctors who supported pelvic mesh did not disclose they were also giving evidence on behalf of Johnson & Johnson in a landmark class action case brought by hundreds of Australian women.

A third doctor repeatedly told a Senate hearing in Melbourne that manufacturers had withdrawn their devices from the Australian market from 2014 because of commercial reasons, and not because evidence to back their safety and efficacy was deficient. It was a Therapeutic Goods Administration senior executive who set the record straight.

Australian Medical Association national president Dr Michael Gannon’s acknowledgement on Tuesday that the AMA promoted and exclusively distributed a pelvic mesh device that helped spark the global mesh scandal was sobering, but he deserves credit for speaking frankly.

The decision more than 15 years ago to promote the device was not the AMA’s proudest hour, he said, before conceding the consequences are a tragedy.

Issue: 38,578.