By Russell Findlay
A mesh campaigner who underwent a life-changing operation in America has urged health secretary Jeane Freeman to honour her pledge to bring the surgeon to Scotland.
Claire Daisley, 49, from Greenock, Inverclyde, received a vaginal mesh implant in 2011 that caused crippling and painful health problems which brought her close to suicide.
But anonymous donors allowed Ms Daisley to travel to St Louis, Missouri, last month where obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Dionysios Veronikis removed all the mesh.
The successful procedure meant that Ms Daisley has saved her bladder, which was due to be removed by NHS Scotland surgeons in July.
She told STV News: “I actually had my bag packed for hospital and I got the phone call to say I was going to St Louis, that I had been funded to go. When I got that call it was like winning the lottery really.
“I can’t put into words how thankful I am. It’s just amazing. I don’t know who the people are. It was actually done as a surprise behind my back because somebody felt so passionately that I shouldn’t be losing organs and there must be another way.
“Dr Veronikis was the other way so I need to thank him and the people who sent me there. I just don’t have words, it’s fantastic. It’s absolutely amazing.”
The pioneering American medic first offered to operate on Scottish mesh victims last November – and said he was willing to share his expertise with NHS surgeons.
In June this year, health secretary Freeman said the Scottish Government had invited him, telling Holyrood: “I have asked that we seek to bring Dr Veronikis to Scotland for a period of time to provide treatment, expert advice and training.
“Clearly, such an arrangement would be subject to agreement and regulatory approval.”
But it has emerged that the process has stalled, prompting Dr Veronikis to write to the Scottish government last month.
In his letter, seen by STV News, he says he has complied with General Medical Council (GMC) requirements – and that it was now up to Scottish officials to act.
He wrote: “I hope you agree that there is nothing more that I can do to facilitate the GMC process at this point.
“It is for the Scottish healthcare authorities to progress the issue of a formal invitation which is needed to complete the GMC pathway.
“I trust you would agree with me that I have been more than accommodating to talk, email and text as well accommodated all requested visit dates with you.
“I have gladly participated in all the scheduled conference calls as requested in this matter. I would hope that if any accountability is asked for the lack of progress to date that none of it is remotely directed towards me in any way, shape or form.”
Mum-of-three Ms Daisley has also renewed calls to bring Dr Veronikis to Scotland.
She said: “It’s very frustrating because we in Scotland can’t get full mesh removals. They class them here as a full mesh removal but it’s not.
“He offered to come here almost a year ago and he’s still not here. It’s heartbreaking to see the situation some of these women are in.
“They deserve his expertise, they deserve a chance at life, they deserve some hope and they will only get that from Dr Veronikis.
“If they can’t be fixed here in Scotland, they need to bring in somebody who can and that’s Dr Veronikis.
“It [the pain] takes you to the brink, it really does and it’s not a nice place to be.
“Jeane Freeman said last week when she was asked, that one of the proudest things she’s done since becoming cabinet secretary for health was the mesh implant scandal.
“I think she could be even more proud by welcoming Dr Veronikis with open arms and allow all these women to be treated in Scotland.”
Labour MSP and mesh campaigner Neil Findlay has spoken with Dr Veronikis who he describes as “exasperated with what is going on”, adding: “He wants to come. Now if he wants to come and he’s made that offer, why are we not doing everything possible to get him here?”
Findlay believes that resistance from the medical establishment may be the reason for the delay.
He told STV News: “I think the Scottish Government have a lot of questions to answer on this.
“From the information that I have, it’s been delay after delay caused by bureaucratic incompetence is my view and also I think people don’t want him to come.
“But what we see is the deliberate blocking of him coming to Scotland and he’s been deliberately blocked by vested interests in the medical profession in Scotland, many of whom are responsible for implanting the mesh in the first place.
“The impact has been that women who are suffering horrendously, who have been disabled, who are severely injured by these mesh implants are having to crowdfund or rely on benefactors to pay for them to go to America to have mesh removed.
“This is an absolute scandal and the health secretary must intervene. This can’t go on.”
Freeman declined an STV News interview request.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We sympathise hugely with Ms Daisley and every woman who has suffered pain and life-changing complications caused by mesh implants. In each case, treatment will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances.
“With regard to bringing Dr Veronikis to Scotland, it is essential that a process of due diligence is conducted and this involves professional review. Registration with the GMC, and therefore licence to practise in Scotland, cannot be granted until this is completed.
“Scottish Government officials have been engaged with Dr Veronikis, as well as relevant health boards and clinicians to organise a visit to USA to meet with him. This will take place as soon as possible.”