Labour calls for more scrutiny of surgical mesh

Labour calls for more scrutiny of surgical mesh

Labour has asked the health and disability commissioner to launch an investigation into the use of surgical mesh, after two women launched a commission of inquiry.

Charlotte Korte and Carmel Berry, both sufferers of chronic pain caused by the surgical mesh; have been campaigning for tougher regulation around the use of such devices.

Last week, the select committee reported back, urging the Government set up a mesh registry.

The committee also suggested ongoing campaigning for mesh removal and an expansion of regulator Medsafe's capability to assess the safety of medical devices.

As for a wider inquiry, the answer was no.

With the recommendations now with Government, Labour deputy leader Annette King says the report doesn't go far enough and is demanding further scrutiny.

The implant itself looks harmless, made from polypropylene and designed in the 1950s to mend abdominal hernias.

Since its conception, surgical mesh has made its way into more intimate procedures -- including operations designed to support or hold in in women's pelvic organs and to treat pelvic-organ prolapse.

Christine Williams was treated with mesh -- resulting in her enduring agonising pain for 32 weeks.

"I had the surgery and woke up in pain in recovery, and haven't basically been able to sit on my left-hand side."

Since the operation in 2013, Ms Williams has not been able to work due to the chronic pain.

She says if she had known the risks associated with mesh prior to the surgery, she'd have never gone ahead with it.

"It's like Russian roulette," she says.

The mesh remains inside Ms Williams and she has been unable to find a surgeon in New Zealand who can remove it, because the procedure is so complicated.

While the operation can be performed in North America, ACC won't fund it.

Canadian surgeon Robert Bendavid has performed thousands of hernia surgeries in his 30 years of experience and has studied mesh extensively.

"I certainly wouldn't want to expose my children, my daughters to this sort of a problem, ever," says Dr Bendavid.

He has grave concerns with mesh because of the way it can degrade in the human body.

"The real problem is that it has a tendency to erode into tissues and of course, erosion into bowel or erosion into muscle. Erosion into a vain or artery can be a very problematic situation," says Dr Bendavid.

A Canadian study found that degrading mesh could cause nerve and organ damage and research has concluded that the devices were "introduced with incomplete understanding of mesh-body interactions".

The figures state between 12 and 17 percent end up with chronic pain -- and abdominal wall hernias seem to be similar with the pelvic use in vaginal operations.

Experts here put the number experiencing pain at about nine percent, but say this figure could be underreported.

When contacted by the Nation programme, the Royal College of Gynaecologists, whose surgeons work with mesh in New Zealand, couldn't make anybody available for interview.

They did say via statement that degrading mesh was a continuing area of research which the college is watching carefully, and it believes there is still a role for surgical mesh use in patients, particularly for incontinence procedures.

The college also pointed out that pain can occur following surgeries which don't use mesh too.

Ms Williams is one of 500 mesh recipients who have filed successful treatment injury claims with ACC over the last decade.

More than $10 million has been paid out by ACC for rehabilitation and compensation.

In an ACC report, more than 56,000 mesh devices had been sold as of 2014.

The ACC claim rate for mesh used during organ prolapse repair was five times that of other procedures.

However, as the report also noted it is possible that other individuals have suffered complications related to the use of surgical mesh but have not lodged a claim with ACC.

Regulator Medsafe claims that mesh is safe when used by properly trained surgeons and that the benefits outweigh its risks.

It is a position that is consistent with overseas authorities and Medsafe says depending on the type of surgery involved, problems with mesh implants can occur in zero to 15 percent of cases.

The use of mesh has been declining, but the damage it has left behind has not been forgotten.