Surgeon used mesh without woman's consent

  • 30/04/2014

A woman who says she was wrongly informed by her surgeon about the use of mesh in her operation is making a formal complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Christine Williams, 50, is one of many women in New Zealand and around the world who have been badly affected by complications from surgical mesh.

The Health and Disability Commissioner has had seven complaints regarding mesh complications in the last two years, while ACC costs nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013.

Ms Williams, who resides in Auckland, underwent surgery last October to repair both a vaginal and rectal floor prolapse.

She says she was told by her surgeon she would be having a "non-evasive" TOT tape procedure, which would have a recovery period of around two weeks.

Ms Williams had surgery to treat a similar problem 20 years earlier. When she enquired whether the surgeon would be using mesh, he told her mesh wasn't used anymore.

"He'd made it out as if it was just a nice, easy fix that they'd come up with over the years."

Three weeks after her operation, Ms Williams says she knew something was wrong due to the pain she was feeling.

"The pain has been unrelenting since the surgery and has affected my whole life."

Nine weeks after the operation, Ms Williams went for her post-surgery check-up. She told the surgeon she had been bleeding for seven weeks, but he told her the pain was not related to the procedure and ordered a scan.

By December, Ms Williams was still unaware the surgeon had used mesh during the operation. It was only when he wrote a letter to her GP stating he "couldn't see any mesh erosion" during her examination, that she discovered the controversial product was inside her body.

"People would not consent to this barbaric procedure if they knew that they may come out of surgery and never be able to resume the life they had," she says.

"I have gone from having a fantastic job, husband and family and the arrival of my first granddaughter, to a person that woke in pain from the surgery [more than] seven months ago and was abandoned by our very own surgeons and health department."   

After discovering the surgeon had used mesh, Ms Williams desperately tried to get an appointment at the hospital.

"I rang the hospital repeatedly between December and January basically begging. I was like, 'I need to see [him], something's not right,' and they said he was too busy."

Ms Williams' doctor agreed with the surgeon and said the pain was not related. But an orthopaedic surgeon who treated Ms Williams for an unrelated shoulder injury was adamant something was wrong.

"I couldn't believe in this day and age that you can have an operation […] then you just become a number in a queue and they don't want to know about you," says Ms Williams.

"I just didn't think that they could do that."

After months of waiting and no success, Ms Williams ditched the public health system and visited a private gynaecologist in March.

"He felt and saw the mesh, which wasn't in the right place straight away, and he said, 'You're going to need it removed.'"

Ms Williams is set to have her mesh removed next week, although it will be a tricky operation and could possible require more than one surgery.

She calls the lack of care and treatment she's had through the public health system "disgusting", and is calling for the Government to act.

"Our health system and Government are still letting our surgeons continue putting mesh into people that have not been informed about the procedure or serious life-altering complications that can occur," she says.

"The stress on top of my ill health was not being able to return to work and not having an income for six months when we had mortgage payments and bills to pay." 

Ms Williams has not been able to return to work since October, and fears for other patients who could be misinformed about the dangers of mesh.

"I just would just hate to think any other woman is going to go through it, and they probably have since I've had my operation, they're probably still doing it."

Ms Williams says she will make a formal complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC), who confirmed to 3 News its office is currently investigating two other complaints.

"My expectation is that all doctors using surgical mesh are fully up-to-date regarding risks that may be associated with the particular product or technique being used," says commissioner Anthony Hill.

"Doctors must also ensure that patients are fully informed of the options available, and risks and benefits of proposed treatments, including any products to be used, before treatment is commenced."

Mr Hill says given the potential risks that are known to be associated with surgical mesh, it's even more critical that doctors inform their patients.

He advises patients who believe they are suffering to contact their healthcare professional.

Carmel Berry and Charlotte Korte, who have also suffered greatly from mesh complications, have petitioned the Government for an urgent inquiry into the use of mesh in New Zealand.

The petition is with the Health Select Committee, and the two women will make submissions this week.

Meanwhile in the United States Johnson & Johnson, who distribute surgical mesh products, were recently ordered to pay US$1.2 million to a woman who was fitted with a defectively designed product.

It's the first case where a complainant has won against the company over mesh devices. Johnson & Johnson are currently facing more than 12,000 lawsuits accusing its Ethicon unit of making flawed mesh devices.

3 News

source: newshub archive