Gynaecological negligence or malpractice is a difficult area of medical law and one which is related to significant injuries for women when this type of surgery goes wrong. In this blog, we will explore the different contexts where gynaecological negligence can arise and the different types of legal action a women can take if she has been injured by gynaecological surgery.
Pelvic mesh has been the subject of many litigated cases over the past few years. The cases are both against the gynaecologist and /or the public hospital who inserted the pelvic mesh and also against the manufacturer (pharmaceutical company) of the pelvic mesh by way of a class action. These types of cases are often run against both the gynaecologist and /or the public hospital and the pharmaceutical company at the same time.
Pelvic mesh is a particularly difficult problem for women as it tends to degrade over time and erode into other pelvic organs causing agonising pain. It is also very difficult to remove once it is in. More information is available on our blog specifically geared to pelvic mesh.
Gynaecological surgery is a complex area and one that it divided into sub-specialities. In regional areas it may not be possible to find a sub-specialist in the regional area who can perform uro-gynaecological surgery or expertly remove endometriosis. That does not mean, however, that specialist uro-gynaecological surgery should be attempted by gynaecologist who has not trained as a uro-gynaecologist, rather the woman should be referred to the subspecialist even if that means that the woman is required to travel to a city for the surgery and / or treatment.
Pelvic surgery is associated with the formation of scar tissue and adhesions as well as inflammation, which can cause pain, sexual dysfunction together with bladder and bowel problems. It is therefore arguable that it is better to treat gynaecological conditions in the most conservative ways possible. This means that women with incontinence problems should be referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapist before prolapse surgery is attempted and women with heavy menstrual bleeding should trial IUDs and hormonal treatment before resorting to an endometrial ablation or a hysterectomy. When surgery it necessary it should be done in the least invasive way possible for example a laparoscopic hysterectomy rather than an open abdominal hysterectomy.
Pelvic surgery is complex in nature and the pelvic organs are very close it each other. For example;
- When a hysterectomy is being performed it is very important to avoid damaging the bladder and the ureters.
- When endometriosis surgery is being performed it is very important that it is resected very carefully to avoid damaging the ovaries, the uterus, the bladder and the bowel.
There have been a number of gynaecologists, who have lost their rights to practice due to professional misconduct. Recent examples include Dr Gayed who operated in the Taree area of regional NSW and Dr Reid who operated in the Central Coast of NSW and Sydney. Dr Gayed and Dr Reid were both practicing for long periods of time before they lost their rights to practice and the HCCC complaints involved multiple women. This means that many women were injured in surgeries performed by these doctors.
Many women’s experience of gynaecological problems, first occur, after a traumatic vaginal birth. Women who give birth vaginally with the assistance of forceps or a Ventouse are more likely to suffer pelvic organ prolapse, sexual dysfunction as well as bladder and bowel problems.
More information is available on our video and website specifically about maternal birth trauma.
Types of injury
Gynaecological injuries are wide ranging but have one main aspect in common, which is that the injuries are hidden. It is not obvious to an outsider that a woman is suffering from a painful debilitating condition in the same way that a broken leg would be obvious. The result of this is many women suffer in silence and soldier on despite the pain and disability. Common problems include:
- Pelvic organ prolapses;
- Urinary incontinence;
- Urinary stress incontinence;
- Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs);
- Sexual dysfunction;
- Pelvic adhesions;
- Early onset menopause;
- Damage to pelvic organs – uterus, bladder, ureters, ovaries and or bowel;
- Ongoing debilitating pain and discomfort;
- Requirement for further surgery; and/ or
- Psychological sequelae – such as depression and /or anxiety.
Legal options will depend on the severity of the injury and the type of complaint. In NSW the options are typically:
- A Complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission
The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) is focused on protecting the public from problematic practitioners. If the HCCC decides to prosecute a gynaecologist, it can result in a finding of professional misconduct which can mean that the gynaecologist can no longer work as a gynaecologist. Whilst the HCCC prosecution can result in a gynaecologist being struck off, this is rare and a more likely outcome is a reprimand or a limitation of the gynaecologist’s rights to practice. A complaint to the HCCC will not result in financial compensation for the woman
2. A Claim for financial compensation against the gynaecologist and / or the hospital through negligence proceedings
A claim for negligence in NSW will need to prove:
- The plaintiff was owed a duty of care by the hospital and/ or the doctor;
- The hospital and/ or the doctor breached the duty of care; and
- The plaintiff suffered an injury which was caused by the breach of the duty of care.
If you have suffered an injury, as a result of gynaecological surgery, get in touch a book a free non-obligation appointment to discuss your legal options at our Central Coast or Sydney offices, alternatively we can arrange a virtual or telephone appointment. We offer a no win no fee legal service for our negligence clients.
Please be aware that there are time limits for making personal injury claims. These differ on a state by state, basis and it is important to access to legal advice as soon as possible so that you are not precluded from making a claim.
Jane Bulter- Remedy Law Group