PIP breast implants: MPs condemn NHS stance in England

Burst implant The implants were manufactured by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP)

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The stance taken in England on replacing PIP breast implants - at the centre of a health scare - "flies in the face of common sense", MPs say.

Patients who had implants privately can have them removed, but not replaced, on the NHS if the clinic will not help.

The Commons Health Committee said that meant patients being operated on twice and urged the NHS to remove and replace, with a charge for the latter.

Ministers said allowing people to pay for treatment would set a precedent.

The system called for by MPs would probably see patients paying about £1,500 for replacement on the NHS unless their private clinic agreed to cover the cost.

The cross-party group said the current position seemed to be putting women off having the implants removed.

They said doing it in one procedure made much more sense on both economic and safety grounds.

A review of the implants safety was ordered earlier this year because of conflicting data about the risk of the implants rupturing and leaking non-medical grade silicone into the body.

They were made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP).

'Clinically inadequate'

Health Committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said the stance at the moment was "clinically inadequate".

He added: "It flies in the face of common sense to put women through two procedures when one will do."

What are the risks?

  • The silicone inside the implants is not medical grade - but was intended for use in mattresses
  • Tests have not shown any increased risk of toxicity from this filler compared with normal implants
  • But mechanical testing has shown the implant covers have an increased risk of rupturing
  • The gel inside can cause irritation, increasing the risk of inflammation reaction - making removal more difficult
  • There is no increased breast cancer risk
  • One case of a rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) was recently reported in France
  • French and US experts suggest there is a small but increased risk of this cancer in women with breast implants in general

But he said the health service in England should not go as far as the NHS in Wales, which has offered the removal and replacement, as it was not right for the taxpayer to pick up the bill for what was a cosmetic procedure.

Northern Ireland and Scotland have similar policies to England.

The recommendation was one of a series made by MPs in their report on the issue.

About 47,000 women in the UK are thought to have been given PIP implants - 95% of whom underwent private operations.

The government has already ordered two reviews looking at the regulation of cosmetic procedures in general and the reaction to the scandal in the UK.

The MPs said it was essential some key shortcomings were addressed by those inquiries.

In particular, they highlighted the power of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which issued an alert in March 2010 telling surgeons they should stop using PIP implants.

Such alerts require the NHS to respond saying they will not use the devices - but no such response is required from private clinics.

They also said it was important that a proper audit of which patients were getting which implants was kept in the future.

Fazel Fatah, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said changing the NHS stance on removal would "provide reassurance" to those women who were not getting support from their private clinics.

But Health Minister Lord Howe said: "I understand that the prospect of two operations is difficult and distressing for women, but it is a founding principle of the NHS that people don't pay the NHS for treatment.

"If we allowed patients to pay for treatment in this case, it would set a precedent for other treatments and cosmetic surgery. The responsibility for this sits squarely with private providers."

Jane Brown: "The surgeon said I'd look pretty awful if I had them taken out, but I feel like I don't have any choice"

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