World-leading mesh surgeon accuses Scottish Government of 'war of attrition' over surgery offer

A US-based surgeon who pulled out of plans to visit Scotland to help women injured after mesh surgery said he did so after a “war of attrition” with the Scottish Government.

Dr Dionysios Veronikis gave evidence to MSPs.

Dr Dionysios Veronikis had previously offered to travel to Scotland to perform complex mesh removal operations on women left suffering after vaginal mesh surgery.

He later stepped back from the project, but was persuaded to continue by the First Minister personally.

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But in September he wrote to health secretary Jeane Freeman to say he was “permanently withdrawing” his offer as he had become “exasperated” by negotiations.

Speaking to MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee on Thursday, Dr Veronikis said that on paper the project appeared to have the ingredients of success, but that over 18 months there appeared to him to be a “willingness to delay any real progress”.

Previous chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood had agreed to complete the regulatory process necessary for him to visit Scotland by December 2019, he said, after she visited him in the US a month before.

But Dr Calderwood “did a u-turn on that agreement”, Dr Veronikis said, and instead asked him to come to Scotland in Spring 2020 to canvass for the sponsorship he would need.

“My involvement in this project is flavoured by delay and what appeared to be a war of attrition,” Dr Veronikis told MSPs.

“Whatever the motivations, the outcome demonstrated to me there was no sense of urgency in the project to help the mesh injured women.

“We’ve been at this now almost 18 months. In the time I have spent engaging, I could have probably operated on 50 women.”

Dr Veronikis said he had moved away from the project as he did not want to give the women, many of whom have been left with painful complications, “false hope”.

Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw and Labour MSP Neil Findlay suggested during the meeting that instead of Dr Veronikis travelling to Scotland, the government could pay for affected women to travel to Missouri.

Two of Mr Carlaw’s constituents have already travelled to the US for such surgery.

“The only viable option for many of these women now, if they choose to have it, is to go to Dr Veronikis in America,” said Mr Carlaw.

Mr Findlay said: “The Scottish Government should now be looking at agreeing to pay for women to go and have a mesh removal with Dr Veronikis.”

In July, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced the NHS is to set up a specialist service to perform mesh removal operations on those women who have been left suffering after surgery.

She added that Scottish Government would provide more than £1.3 million to support the new Complex Mesh Removal Surgical Service in 2020-21.

But Dr Veronikis questioned whether women would be willing to be treated at the specialist centre, if they were to be cared for by the surgical teams who had performed the first operations.

He said: “My offer to come to Scotland was so that women would not have to spent their life savings, sell their homes, to borrow money, to do whatever they needed to do to get to me.”

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