By Rachel Clun and Melissa Cunningham
A gynaecologist remains free to practice without restriction despite an ongoing investigation into serious allegations he staged a controversial transvaginal mesh device clinical trial at a Melbourne hospital without the approval of the hospital involved.
In 2017, public health watchdog Safer Care Victoria was directed to investigate Dr Max Haverfield and his pelvic mesh trial conducted at Northern Hospital.
Two years later, the investigation continues after being passed from one regulator to another.
It has prompted Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos to criticise the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for delays in the investigation.
“We have sought urgent advice from AHPRA on the status of their investigation because two years is too long for patients and the community to be waiting for answers,” she said.
Dr Haverfield published a research paper in 2015 in Pelviperineology about the mesh device known as the Tissue Fixation System (TFS).
The device was used to try to fix uterus prolapse, but left many Australian women with serious and permanent injuries to their bowels and sexual organs. This publication does not suggest women were injured during Dr Haverfield’s trial. In 2014, the national medical device watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, cancelled its registration for use in Australia. Dr Haverfield’s paper said his trial involving 40 women between 2009 and 2013 was conducted at the Northern Hospital in Melbourne with approval from the hospital’s ethics committee.
Northern Health claims it has no record of the trial or ethics committee approval.
The investigation is also looking into allegations Dr Haverfield was assisted on four separate occasions by two NSW doctors who have since had misconduct findings made against them by a NSW tribunal, without the knowledge or approval of the hospital.
While Safer Care Victoria began an investigation, the matter was then referred to the AHPRA, as “the concerns related to the clinical practice of an individual”, a spokesman for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said.
AHPRA’s inquiries into Dr Haverfield were ongoing, a spokeswoman for the organisation said.
“We are unable to comment further because privacy provisions contained in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law prevent us from commenting on matters that are not otherwise public,” she said.
Dr Haverfield remains registered in Victoria, according to AHPRA’s online register of practitioners, and lists obstetrics and gynaecology under specialties. There are no conditions on his practice, undertakings or reprimands published on the website for Dr Haverfield. His registration is due to expire in September next year.
The gynaecologist also remains a fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), a spokesman for the college confirmed. The spokesman said RANZCOG was aware of the investigation and was awaiting the outcome.
It was unclear whether Dr Haverfield was still practising as a gynaecologist in Victoria or elsewhere, but he was listed as working at the Northern Hospital on online databases. He is also listed as working at the Northern Hospital Epping in a September 2018 edition of the journal Pelviperineology. Attempts to contact Dr Haverfield were unsuccessful.
When contacted this week, a Northern Health spokeswoman said Dr Haverfield left the hospital in October 2014.
Victorian opposition health spokesman Georgie Crozier said there had been a lack of transparency in the handling of the investigation.
“The Andrews government needs to ensure that all finalised investigations undertaken by Safer Care Victoria are then reported back to the Victorian community,” she said.
In 2010 Dr Haverfield was allegedly assisted during the trial on two occasions by Dr Pete Petros and was also allegedly assisted in two operations by Dr Richard Reid in 2013.
In May this year, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that Dr Petros was guilty of misconduct, and found they would have struck him off the medical register for two years had he not already retired.
Dr Reid was separately found guilty of misconduct in September 2018, and the tribunal ruled he would have been struck off for five years if he also had not already retired.
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