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World-leading mesh surgeon pulls out of proposed Scots trip claiming ministers and medical advisers are wasting his time

Dr Veronikis operates in St Louis
Dr Veronikis operates in St Louis

A world-renowned mesh removal expert has withdrawn his offer to come to Scotland to help victims after 18 months of talks with Scottish Government officials led nowhere.

Dionysios Veronikis believes there was never a serious intention to bring him here despite a personal pledge by the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon had said everything would be done to bring Dr Veronikis to Scotland to help mesh-damaged women and train surgeons on how to remove implants but, last year, one of the government’s own advisers warned there was a “professional conspiracy” to block his trip. However, he has now called a halt to discussions about the proposed visit, claiming officials were never serious about making it happen.

His decision comes days after a state in Canada said it would refund all mesh victims who have paid for treatment with him, and pay for others to travel oversees to get help. Now campaigners are demanding Scotland does the same for the women forced to spend thousands of pounds travelling to America for life-transforming surgery.

Dr Veronikis said: “After 18 months of trying to come to an agreement with the Scottish Government to get me the contract I needed to complete the GMC accreditation I need to work there, I am no further forward.

“In the circumstances, I have had to reluctantly withdraw as it is the most transparent thing to do for the mesh-injured women who were waiting to see me in Scotland. Without definitive dates it is difficult for me to manage international patient travel, and continually having to juggle my schedules is not something I’m prepared to do.”

The Scottish Government said arrangements had been progressing before the pandemic forced a halt.

A spokesman said: “The former chief medical officer wrote to Dr Veronikis in February stating NHS Scotland would be pleased to offer him a contract of employment subject to the standard regulatory and patient safety-related requirements that apply to any visiting clinician.

“That remains the case. He was invited to Scotland in the spring and was provided with a proposed schedule that would have allowed him to experience and observe the operating environment including theatre list, pre and post-operative processes, the use of multi-disciplinary teams, and consent processes. Clearly the global pandemic, with its impact on health services and travel, has prevented this from being taken forward.”

However, critics said the proposed schedule was pointless as it did not allow Dr Veronikis to operate on patients or train surgeons, which were the main reasons for the trip.

Scottish Mesh Survivors group founder Elaine Holmes said: “It’s shameful Scotland has lost the opportunity to learn from a world-class surgeon who’s changed the lives of thousands of mesh-injured women, including myself.

“We must at least follow Canada and get our women the treatment they need from a surgeon with a proven track record of full removal instead of the partial removals being carried out in Scotland.”

mesh surgery © Andrew Cawley
Elaine Holmes

Elaine, from Newton Mearns, Glasgow, was forced to use her £20,000 life savings to pay for surgery by Dr Veronikis in St Louis, Missouri, in February, nine years after she was allegedly told the mesh had been fully removed. She said: “Four months after surgery, I’m recovering. It was a long journey, but I did it as I realised I’d never get the help and expertise I needed in Scotland.”

MSP Neil Findlay said: “Delay and obstruction by senior officials and doctors has meant zero progress. It is another grave disappointment for brave women who deserve far better from their government.”

Last June, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Parliament that if women could not get ttreatment they needed here, they could be considered for help elsewhere. One of the government’s own mesh experts, Dr Wael Agur, warned in October of what he described as a “professional conspiracy” to prevent Dr Veronikis coming to Scotland after he said talks were going nowhere. Discussions resumed after the intervention of the First Minister.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw told MSPs that “surgeons here felt deeply threatened” by Dr Veronikis’ offer to visit Scotland.

In response, Nicola Sturgeon said: “I want any patient who considers it best – and where there is a clinical view that it is best – to be treated by somebody like Dr Veronikis, to have that available.

“I cannot stipulate that he agreed to come here but, if he is willing to reconsider his position, steps are in progress to fulfil the requirements that would allow that.”