PELVIC mesh surgeon Richard Reid dealt a final blow to the daughter of a woman who took her life in 2015 following mesh surgery, after he tried to stop being "named and shamed" as her doctor.
The former University of Newcastle associate professor lost the fight in February.
Leesa Tolhurst, who sobbed as she talked about her mother Alison Blake's desperate final weeks, and the devastation she felt after Dr Reid, 79, tried to stop her naming him as Ms Blake's surgeon, has called for a full inquiry into the pelvic mesh scandal, with power to subpoena documents and compel evidence, after serious unanswered questions following a 2018 Senate inquiry.
The call comes a day after peak national consumer health groups announced an April forum in Melbourne to make major health reforms - including an overhaul of medical device approval processes after little action despite years of device scandals - a federal election issue.
"No-one responsible for this has really been held accountable and women like my mother have just been abandoned. She went in for surgery trusting the doctor, the hospital and the health system and she was failed at every point," Mrs Tolhurst said.
"My mother wanted her ashes to be scattered across the ocean but I'm not ready to let her go. I want to know how this happened. I want to know who is responsible and I don't want any other woman to feel as abandoned as my mother did that she would take her own life."
Ms Blake was implanted with the Australian-developed Tissue Fixation System (TFS) device in February, 2014, whose prototype was exclusively distributed by the Australian Medical Association as a "design breakthrough".
Although it was cleared for use in women's bodies in 2006, it was not until December, 2018 that a tribunal confirmed its South Australian manufacturer, TFS Manufacturing, headed by former champion Australian basketballer Paul Zadow, could not provide evidence substantiating its safety, quality and performance.
The device was put on the market from 2006 under what the Administrative Appeals Tribunal described as Australia's partial "self-regulation" device assessment system.
Ms Blake was not aware, and had little or no way of knowing, that she was implanted with the TFS device at Sydney Private Hospital only months after Dr Reid was suspended, after another patient required an urgent public hospital transfer following surgery by him.
Ms Blake and other pelvic mesh patients also had "no inkling" they were implanted with the TFS device after the hospital's medical advisory committee imposed a condition requiring Dr Reid to "adopt… the Tissue Fixation System (TFS) for his pelvic floor surgical cases" after his suspension was lifted, a NSW disciplinary tribunal in 2018 found.
The medical advisory committee also imposed a condition that TFS inventor Professor Peter Petros supervise Reid during surgery to implant the device.
Ms Blake was unaware, and had little or no way of knowing, of Dr Reid's long and troubled surgical history, which included a suspension in America in the 1990s after multiple complaints from women patients leading to legal settlements, and serious complaints in Australia leading to conditions over his practice.
In September the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Dr Reid guilty of professional misconduct after complaints by 17 women who suffered serious injuries after surgery by Dr Reid for incontinence and prolapse complications linked to childbirth. The tribunal's penalty of five years' deregistration could not be enforced because he retired before the decision.
No-one responsible for this has really been held accountable and women like my mother have just been abandoned. She went in for surgery trusting the doctor, the hospital and the health system and she was failed at every point.Leesa Tolhurst, whose mother Alison Blake suicided after mesh surgery.
Mrs Tolhurst wept at doctors' evidence to the NCAT hearing describing her mother as one of the "salvage cases", where a doctor attempts to "salvage" an outcome because of previous failed pelvic mesh surgery.
Ms Blake was one of two women sent home after surgery by Dr Reid to self-catheterise on a permanent basis because they were unable to urinate following mesh surgery. He was strongly criticised by NCAT for carrying out three mesh surgeries on Ms Blake over two weeks, failing to produce written informed consent for two of the surgeries and breaching a condition on his registration requiring him to obtain a second opinion for some surgery.
Ms Blake, 64, took her own life in June, 2015, 16 months after the surgery, and only two weeks after a doctor told her nothing could be done to ease her pain or address the devastating consequences of her mesh surgery.
"I cannot bear the thought of leaving you but the emotional torment and physical pain I'm going through are just too much," Mrs Blake said in a final letter to Mrs Tolhurst, her only child.
"I simply cannot bear to be lying on a couch for months on end and to have to rely on catheters, enemas, Temazepam, pain killers and be a burden to my family and friends."
Mrs Tolhurst said she applied to NCAT to have a non-publication order over her mother's name lifted after the September ruling against Dr Reid, to give her mother the dignity she was denied in the final period of her life.
"I want her story and her name to be together so that she's known as a person rather than Patient O. Her name is Alison Blake. She lived her life and she had a good and full life until this happened," Mrs Tolhurst said.
She was devastated when Dr Reid challenged the lifting of the order that prevented Mrs Tolhurst from naming her mother as one of his patients. In a submission to the tribunal Dr Reid criticised previous Newcastle Herald coverage of his surgical history, and said the application was to facilitate "naming and shaming" him.
I want her story and her name to be together so that she's known as a person rather than Patient O. Her name is Alison Blake.Leesa Tolhurst
"If the non-publication order is lifted, the media story to follow is likely to be hurtful and unfair, with little opportunity for Dr Reid to defend himself before damage is done," his lawyer said in a submission.
The tribunal lifted the order on February 21 after finding articles would allow broader discussion of pelvic mesh issues.
"So much of this could have been stopped long ago if women had been listened to when they said things were very wrong. If the only thing I can do now is speak for my mother on behalf of other women, then that's what I'll do," she said.
On Wednesday a leading Australian consumer health group released the results of a hernia mesh survey that concluded a "perfect storm of systemic failures" had left an unknown number of pelvic and hernia mesh surgery patients with severe complications that confirmed the need for urgent health system reforms.
The Melbourne-based Health Issues Centre will hold a forum in April where pelvic and hernia mesh patients, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, health bureaucrats and politicians from around Australia will be brought together for the first time to discuss reforms to the health system, including the need for a health watchdog willing to prosecute to improve public safety.
National consumer health groups want health reforms to be a federal election issue.
In 2017 the TGA confirmed it had not pursued the prosecution of a single manufacturer for failing to report serious pelvic mesh injuries to women despite thousands of known serious injury cases linked to mesh, criminal sanctions if a manufacturer fails to report, and a 2013 TGA report acknowledging it “only receives 10-20 per cent” of all adverse events.
"Does Australia have a strong watchdog in the TGA? Clearly not," Health Issues Centre chief executive Danny Vadasz said.
The Consumer Health Forum of Australia has called for an inquiry into the responsibilities, operations and funding of the TGA, saying the current model of funding by industry rather than government was failing the public.
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