Surgical mesh victims bear pain to confront health minister
Carmel Berry trembles as she walks, her eyes watering in pain. She carries a cushion to sit on which explains her predicament: "Painful to sit due to mesh implant".
Yet Berry from Albany bore the pain, along with four other Auckland women in a similar situation, to meet with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman at a public meeting in his Northcote electorate on Thursday.
The five women were part of the action group Mesh Down Under, which wanted to raise awareness about the impact of surgical mesh and its risk of complications.
Surgical mesh is widely used to treat gynaecological organ prolapse and hernias, but has a risk of severe complications. According to ACC, in the three years to March 2013, 297 claims for mesh-related injuries were accepted.
Berry said she wanted to talk to Coleman, as the group had previously asked for a meeting and been referred to Medsafe.
She was frustrated at Medsafe's apparent lack of action.
"Nothing's change. People are still getting injured by these. According to ACC, 100 people a year make claims."
During the meeting, attended by about 50 people, Mesh Down Under member Charlotte Korte from Titirangi in west Auckland asked why there had not been action on surgical mesh.
"Surgical mesh problems are causing an alarming rise in injuries. Why have you let this large-scale medical misadventure continue and when will you do something to prevent it?"
Coleman acknowledged the surgical mesh complications had been very difficult for patients.
But he said Parliament's Health Select Committee had made some very clear recommendations about surgical mesh and these were being implemented.
When Korte said there had been no action, Coleman said he would take another look at the situation but stopped short of promising a meeting with the group.
After the meeting, Korte said she wanted to see, at least, a register of patients who have surgical mesh implants, so the extent of the problem could be tracked.
On its website, Medsafe said this would be considered as part of the development of a comprehensive regime to regulate therapeutic products in New Zealand. It did not give a timeframe for this.
Another surgical mesh sufferer, Christine Williams, from Huia in west Auckland, anticipated being bedridden for days after the meeting, due to the pain of driving 40 minutes to the venue. During the meeting, she was unable to sit due to her pain.
She asked Coleman if it was adequate for surgeons to be learning on patients as they go, having been told no New Zealand surgeon would be qualified to remove her surgical mesh for another five years.
But Coleman avoided her question, saying the public meeting was not just about surgical mesh.
After the meeting, Coleman said it was the first time one of his series of public meetings had been attended by a concerted group, rather than just local people.
He said that, while he did not have the Health Select Committee report with him, he was confident it was being acted on.
The meeting covered a wide range of topics prompted by questions from the audience, including the National Government's approach to mental health, obesity prevention, cataract surgery, and funding for parenting programme Space.