Women who underwent damaging surgery in Irish hospitals have accused health authorities of dragging them into a "nightmare" of "gaslighting, ignorance and disrespect".

Having had vaginal mesh implants, the women told an Oireachtas committee that they were "maimed" and then led on "a fool's errand" when they sought support from the HSE.

The Health Committee heard from members of Mesh Ireland and Mesh Survivors Ireland who represent around 750 women.

Vaginal implants were "paused" indefinitely five years ago in Ireland and the UK, although they are still available in some European countries.

While the HSE said that it would be "extremely difficult" to provide accurate figures, it estimates that around 10,000 women had this surgery in Ireland.

More than one in ten have suffered complications, Dr Cliona Murphy, Clinical Lead for the National Women and Infants Health Programme, revealed.

Mary McLaughlin, Mesh Ireland, said that at one point, "I lay in bed 16 hours a day", because of the pain she was in.

She demanded dignity and respect for survivors in the face of this "global scandal".

The women are calling for access to a US-based expert in complete mesh removal, to mirror schemes in Scotland and the Canadian state of Quebec.

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They are faced with "every barrier" when they try to get a medical card, Terri Martin, Coordinator of Mesh Survivors Ireland, said.

She told Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane that as they are means-tested, just having a working partner guarantees a rejected application.

Women need the medical card to cover basic items such as those relating to incontinence, she said.

The HSE has set up two mesh complications centres, one in Dublin and the other in Cork, which received €1.3 million last year.

It also operates a service to allow access to foreign medical treatments.

But the committee heard that only two women have ever been allowed to use it, one in 2018, and another last year.

Ms McLaughlin said that access to the scheme is "illusory", with the system "stacked against" applicants, consistently delivering "slam-dunk" refusals.

Partial mesh removal is "not the answer", she said, and cautioned that the "special skill set" needed for full removal, together with "surgical challenges" involved, mean that the operation cannot be performed in Ireland.

However, Dr Murphy said that surgeons in Ireland do possess the relevant expertise.

Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan, a consultant at Mesh Centre Cork, said that the variation in symptoms women present with "is absolutely huge", and so are potential treatments.

For some patients, total mesh removal "has a high chance of making their problems an awful lot worse", she warned.

It carries potentially "devastating" consequences, including "mutilating" the patient, Dr O'Sullivan said.

And she questioned the view that "total mesh removal is the panacea".

Terri Martin said that Dr Gabriel Scally's report into Cervical Check uncovered "identical issues" to the ones these women are dealing with.

"Trust has completely broken down", she said.

Amanda Jackson, Mesh Ireland, worked for years as a midwife in the UK.

She recounted that, despite having seen four specialists over almost two decades, she was never told that her injuries related to the mesh implant.

Some women may not be aware that their health problems are a result of the surgery, she warned.

"Women have been maimed. We went in, in good faith, to have this surgery done," Ms Martin said.

She also revealed that some consultants have said, "It's a problem of your mind, it's not a pain problem."

Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe deplored the "pain and horror" the women had experienced.

"This is real pain. And an untold story," he said, and promised to promptly raise the matter with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

Robert Kidd, Assistant National Director of Acute Operations at the HSE, noted that 11 of the 19 recommendations in a 2018 report have been implemented.

Dr Cliona Murphy gave an undertaking to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall that she would meet with the two survivors' groups.

Deputy Shortall pointed to "an extraordinary dearth of data" on the part of the HSE on this issue.

Asked about full mesh removals, Dr Murphy told her, "We estimate that there have been seven done in Cork".

But she conceded that she is "not entirely sure of the Dublin figure".