The use of surgical mesh in women has caused a health crisis of enormous proportions, both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally. While some women may have benefitted, the devastating harm done by surgical mesh in this country was clearly demonstrated in the Restorative Justice report published in 2019. We have published numerous articles in the AWHC Newsletter on mesh injury since 2018.
Surgical mesh injury and the failure of our Government to stop the harm has been the subject of numerous petitions and submissions to Parliament.
For years our health agencies and regulators have known about the harm that surgical mesh causes. In 2019, the restorative justice process heard from more than six hundred mesh-injured New Zealanders; between 2005 and 2020 more than 1600 claims were lodged with ACC for surgical mesh injury and 1231 were accepted; ACC payments for surgical mesh injuries have increased from $500,000 in 2017 to $5.1 million in 2021.
In 2018, Government officials ordered hospitals to take action to minimise the harm from surgical mesh procedures, however, surgical mesh procedures continue and more and more women are seriously injured. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the continued harm that surgical mesh causes, is sanctioned by the Ministry of Health.
Joint Letter and Joint Media Release on Government’s Failure to Act
In July four organisations — Auckland Women’s Health Council, Federation of Women’s Health Councils, The Cartwright Collective and Health Consumer Advocacy Alliance — joined forces to demand that the Government and Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora show some gumption and do what is necessary to stop the ongoing harm to hundreds of women/wāhine from surgical mesh procedures.
We wrote a joint letter to the Director General of Health, Dr Diana Sarfati asking her to impose an immediate suspension of surgical mesh procedures for stress urinary incontinence, at least until the considerable problems with the use of surgical mesh and the catastrophic harm that it can cause, are properly and adequately addressed.
We followed this up with a joint media release pointing out that Section 37 of the Medicines Act 1981 empowers the Minister of Health to issue a notice prohibiting the administration or other use of medical devices of any specified kind for up to a year; that the Government has the means to protect women from further harm from mesh procedures.
We called on the Ministry of Health to take strong and decisive action to protect the lives and health of New Zealand women, and impose an immediate suspension of surgical mesh procedures for stress urinary incontinence.
As long-time advocate for mesh injured women, Charlotte Korte said in her submission to the Health Committee, “It is no longer good enough to use the excuse that because some women seem fine after having this surgery, it is okay to leave others completely disabled with shattered lives, unable to function in everyday life.”
It is not okay to leave any woman severely disabled through preventable medical injury. It is not okay for any woman to be irrevocably harmed.
“New Zealand women deserve better than this. Collateral damage on this scale from this international market is unacceptable. Such state sanctioned harm has got to stop,” says co-convenor of the Federation of Women’s Health Councils, Barbara Robson.
Surgical Mesh Resources
In June 2022, mesh injured advocate Sally Walker petition Parliament for a suspension of mesh procedures for stress urininary incontinence. On the 30th of June 2023, the Parliamentary Health Committee ‘passed the buck’ to the Ministry of Health, relevant medical colleges and the Medical Council of New Zealand, all of whom have repeatedly failed to take action to protect women from injury from surgical mesh. Sally Walker and Charlotte Korte are both disappointed and disillusioned by this outcome. Mesh injured New Zealanders have again been forsaken by the very agencies that should be protecting them.
Practical Information on Surgical Mesh: what do I need to know?
by Charlotte Korte
A useful primer on surgical mesh including how to recognise surgical mesh complications and what questions to ask your doctor.
A 2022 research paper on the surgical mesh crisis for the Medico-Legal studies honours course at University of Auckland.