Tauranga podiatric surgeon Stefan Edwards under investigation over multiple botched operations

Patients of a Tauranga podiatric surgeon, who's under investigation for botching multiple foot operations, say health regulators are letting New Zealanders down.

Stefan Edwards strenuously denies multiple complaints before the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Podiatrists Board.

One of his patients, 20-year-old Maddy Rose, went to Edwards at the Foot Centre's Tauranga clinic in 2016 after years of sport-induced pain in her feet.

"We thought 'he's a surgeon, he knows what he's doing' and we trusted him," she told Newshub.

She says he diagnosed a tight plantar fascia, between the heel and toes, and booked her in the very next day for an operation.

Eight days later he did the other foot, and she says he damaged a nerve.

"My foot from right around here is completely numb. I can't move my first three toes, it's tingly, it still gets sharp pains," she says.

Edwards is one of just three podiatric surgeons registered in New Zealand.

Podiatric surgeons are not medical doctors, but are legally able to operate on feet and ankles under local anaesthetic.

Edwards has a BSc with Honours specialising in podiatric medicine from Brighton University in the UK  - and completed a three-year correspondence course from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine.

Newshub has talked to several orthopaedic surgeons who have had to correct Edwards' work.

One specialist found a joint implant designed for a finger had been used in a toe. He also found the site so infected the patient risked amputation. Another orthopaedic surgeon was asked to correct Edwards' work on an Achilles.

The president of the NZ Orthopaedic Association, Rod Maxwell, says his surgeons "are having to pick up the pieces because when things go wrong, it's us that has to do the remedial work if that's possible, and sometimes that's not possible".

Orthopaedic surgeons admit complications can happen to anyone, but say their 13 years of surgical training makes a difference. They deny this is about them protecting their patch.

"We're not talking about podiatrists in general, they are highly valued colleagues, but the surgical podiatrists - there is a tendency for them to overstate their credentials using the word surgeon," Maxwell says.

Rose spent a year in pain, trusting repeated reassurances from Edwards, before getting a second opinion from an orthopaedic surgeon.

"What they did find was the fascia was completely intact," her mother Wallis Rose says.

"It was a healthy fascia. It had not been cut at all, but the main motor nerve had been transected and was damaged."

Edwards has told Newshub he "denies the allegations" and has provided "a full explanation of all the complaints".

The Health and Disability Commissioner says it's had complaints about more than one podiatric surgeon over the years, and is "concerned about this issue".

"We have investigated some complaints and have found more than one individual in breach of the Code, and referred other complaints to the Podiatrists Board," spokesperson Ruth Larsen says. 

It's the job of the Podiatrists Board to regulate. Its professional conduct committee has been investigating five complaints against Edwards for over a year, and still has no final ruling.

"It's been two years since we made the initial complaint and yeah, we thought something would've been done by now," the Roses say.

The board has placed restrictions on Edwards, including a requirement that he be supervised by a current practising orthopaedic surgeon or another registered podiatric surgeon.

He must also file monthly reports of his surgery and the anaesthetic used.

"I'm wondering what that supervision looks like to be honest," Wallis says.

Newshub has obtained 2018 High Court documents which disclose the extent of the Podiatrists Board's ongoing concerns.

The board states the number of similar complaints about Edwards reveal "a concerning pattern of behaviour" and that his surgery poses an "ongoing risk of serious harm to the public".

Podiatry New Zealand represents the wider podiatry community, and says consumers deserve more transparency from the regulatory board while it's investigating.

"The public are being let down by the system," CEO Jennifer Pelvin says. "When a health practitioner has a condition on their practising certificate, the public will not be aware of what that means unless they know and understand the Act."

How much longer complainants and Edwards will have to wait for a decision is still unclear.

The Health and Disability Commissioner stresses that anyone who needs an operation of any kind should get a referral from their GP first and research the practitioner they're going to.


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