WOMEN have accused the Australian Government of standing by while devastated pelvic mesh patients are re-traumatised by a health system failing to acknowledge and respond to a national scandal.
“Women have been left feeling like they’ve been raped by the health system and abused again when they’ve sought the help they were promised,” said mental health worker Justine Watson after seven years of pelvic mesh complications that included a suicide attempt and a trip to an American specialist in 2017 to remove the mesh.
“What is just not understood and acknowledged by governments is that women were implanted with mesh by doctors without giving informed consent, via the vagina, and have suffered devastating and permanent complications. It is why so many are suffering serious mental and physical harm. What women experienced is a kind of sexual assault and yet the services being provided are just not responding to that,” Ms Watson said.
She is one of three women to set up Mesh Injured Australia Incorporated to provide urgent support for thousands of women and men injured by surgical mesh implants. The association will also demand government action.
The group issued a media statement on Monday as prominent pelvic mesh gynaecologist Richard Reid was deregistered after leaving a trail of devastated women patients, including mesh-injured patients, across two countries and two Australian states. The five-year deregistration almost two years after he retired was an insult to women and a demonstration of the health system’s failure to protect the public, said Medical Errors Action Group founder Lorraine Long.
Ms Watson said mesh-injured women were appalled the Federal Government had not implemented urgent changes in treatment, monitoring and care and had not responded to the Senate inquiry into the pelvic mesh scandal six months after a final report was released.
What women experienced is a kind of sexual assault and yet the services being provided are just not responding to that.Mesh Injured Association founder Justine Watson.
The inquiry, initiated by Senator Derryn Hinch and headed by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, identified failures across the health system leading to “catastrophic” results for an unknown number of women implanted with devices for more than three decades.
Mr Hinch described the implantation of high risk pelvic mesh devices in Australian women as “one of the greatest medical scandals and abuses of mothers in Australia’s history”.
The Senate inquiry final report called on the federal and state governments to commission an audit of all mesh devices and outcomes and establish specialist units across the country to assess and manage the long-term severe complications experienced by some women.
It recommended mandatory reporting of adverse events by doctors, a registry for all high risk implantable devices a more comprehensive monitoring scheme for devices approved for use in Australia after damning evidence of health system failures to respond to women’s complaints about pelvic mesh devices from as early as the 1990s.
It recommended pelvic mesh should be used as a “last resort” after evidence from women about the severe, permanent and disabling consequences of some mesh surgery to treat routine conditions after childbirth.
The final report also recommended a Department of Health-led review of “systems in place to prevent the payment of inducements to medical professionals and teaching hospitals” after Australia’s college of women’s health specialists failed to declare the full range of sponsorships from pelvic mesh device manufacturers to the Senate inquiry.
Ms Watson said a range of attempts had been made to secure Government support for services to mesh injured people across the country but “all to no avail”.
Instead support groups established by mesh-injured women were receiving constant reports of health authorities having little or no information or understanding of pelvic mesh injuries when women sought help, she said.
“There’s been no studies done, there’s no data and women are having to educate health workers about the complications they’re experiencing. It’s a re-traumatisation for them to have to explain what has happened, when it was the health system’s failures that led to their injuries,” Ms Watson said.
“We need patient-centred care facilities, co-designed with consumers, to be established in each state to accommodate women in particular who have experienced trauma, abuse and mesh complications. Those centres need to facilitate safe and full removal of surgical mesh if required.
There’s been no studies done, there’s no data and women are having to educate health workers about the complications they’re experiencing. It’s a re-traumatisation for them to have to explain what has happened, when it was the health system’s failures that led to their injuries.Justine Watson
“Every day shocking stories arise from mesh support groups that are real life stories, including women as young as 28 seeking medical attention and being faced with chronic gender discrimination, ignorance, complacency and negative and dismissive treatment.”
Ms Watson and mesh-injured women Andrea Walter and Kim Blieschke established a toll free national hotline, 1800 MESHED (1800 637 433), run by mesh-injured volunteers.
A spokesperson for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government will “soon respond” to the Senate report.
The Federal Department of Health did not respond to a Newcastle Herald question about the provision of specific support for mesh-injured women, as recommended by the Senate inquiry.
A new regulatory framework requires all surgical mesh devices, including hernia mesh, to “meet higher evidentiary requirements” for use in Australia.
From December 1 manufacturers of all new implantable devices, including hernia mesh, will need to supply patient leaflets with “information about symptoms to be aware of and where to report adverse events”, a Department of Health spokesperson said.
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