Health minister Greg Hunt’s apology for ‘historic agony and pain’ of pelvic mesh surgery – Joanne McCarthy


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

PELVIC mesh victims have called for a complete ban on the use of pelvic mesh implants in Australia after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt apologised to women for the “historic agony and pain” of mesh surgery.

Peak consumer health bodies around Australia welcomed the apology but said the lack of funding to help affected women, and the failure to hold authorities responsible for the scandal to account, were “glaring” absences from the Federal Government’s response on Wednesday to a Senate report into pelvic mesh. 

“We congratulate the Minister for recognising that these women have waited too long for validation from a system that treated them as unreliable witnesses to their own pain and suffering,” said Health Issues Centre chief executive Danny Vadasz.

“But ‘sorry’ is just a good first step. It doesn’t in itself deliver a happy ending. The Minister is relying on system reform through institutional self-regulation. Expecting the various bodies that failed their duty of care to pick up their game without addressing their accountability is an empty hope.”

On Wednesday Mr Hunt acknowledged “horrific outcomes” for many Australian women.

“On behalf of the Australian government, I say sorry to all of those women with the historic agony and pain that has come from mesh implantation which have led to horrific outcomes,” he said.

The Senate inquiry and report identified failures across the health system leading to “catastrophic” results for an unknown number of women implanted with devices for more than three decades.

The Senate report recommended a review of doctors’ relationships with device manufacturers “to prevent the payment of inducements” to doctors and teaching hospitals, 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, and government agency oversight of a more effective informed consent process by doctors.

“Our main aim and collective efforts are focused on restoring affected women’s confidence in our healthcare system, now and into the future.”

Mr Hunt said the government supported, or supported in principle, 12 of the 13 recommendations, but stopped short of a retrospective audit of transvaginal mesh procedures since the devices were introduced in Australia. Transvaginal mesh devices are polypropylene supports implanted into a woman via the vagina after complications following childbirth, including incontinence and prolapse.

The audit was strongly supported by pelvic mesh victims and public health groups after evidence health authorities did not know how many women had received implants, and how many were experiencing significant problems following mesh surgery.

The Newcastle Herald has reported since 2014 on women across Australia being ignored for decades when they have reported complications following mesh surgery.

On Wednesday Mr Hunt said the inquiry raised awareness about serious and longstanding impacts reported by some women following mesh-related procedures.  

“I acknowledge the strength of the women who spoke at the public hearings, recounting deeply private and often traumatic experiences. The inquiry identified how we can recognise and support the women affected, and make improvements to Australia’s health care system,” he said.

He said the government had already strengthened pre-market assessment of surgical mesh products by identifying them as high risk, had enhanced post market surveillance, introduced new Medicare items for the removal of mesh and launched a new Therapeutic Goods Administration web hub for consumers and professionals to find information about mesh.

Carolyn Chisholm, who launched the first support group for pelvic mesh women in 2014, said she appreciated the recognition of pelvic mesh as a national scandal and the minister’s apology, but said all mesh had to be removed from the market.

“I appreciate the recognition but these products should be banned altogether to prevent the possibility of more women’s lives being ruined. If only Greg Hunt would acknowledge this, then that would be progress,” Ms Chisholm said.

Joanne McCarthy

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