MPs condemn two-year delay over PIP breast implant threat as they say Government's response was 'inadequate'

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UPDATED:

23:02 GMT, 27 March 2012

The Government’s handling of the breast implant scandal was slow and inadequate, an influential committee of MPs has concluded.

A report from the Commons Health Committee highlighted that 21 months passed between the discovery that the PIP implants were filled with sub-standard silicone and the NHS’s pledge to help the tens of thousands of women caught up in the scandal.

The MPs described the delay as ‘surprising’ and described the attempts to raise public awareness made by the Government and its medicines watchdog as ‘inadequate’.

Criticism: A Commons committee has concluded the Government's handling of the PIP implant scandal was inadequate

Criticism: A Commons committee has concluded the Government's handling of the PIP implant scandal was inadequate

They said: ‘Given the fact that 40,000 women were known to have received sub-standard implants, the very scale of the problems alone should have provoked a high-profile policy response much sooner, including urgent action to gather evidence that would allow the risk of these implants to be properly assessed.’

The committee also heard that it was uncertain how well the March 2010 ban in using the implants was communicated to the private sector – despite the majority of ops being carried out there.

Sir Kent Woods, chief executive of the medicines’ watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said he ‘sincerely hoped’ none were implanted after that date.

The Health Select Committee also states that the MHRA was first aware of problems with the implants in 2008 and asks whether it could have acted sooner.

The hard-hitting report says more
evidence on the implants’ safety is urgently required – particularly in
the light of new evidence from the Harley Medical Group.

The
multi-million-pound cosmetic surgery business, which fitted more PIP
implants than any other British firm, said that surgeons removing the
implants had ‘noticed phenomena they had never observed with other
implants’.

This included
pus, redness, lumpy granular tissue, an a milky secretion. Even when the
implants haven’t ruptured, a milky secretion is seen in up to one in
four cases.

Surgeons from the Harley Medical Group, which fitted more PIP implants than any other British firm noticed phenomena such as pus, redness, lumpy granular tissue and a milky secretion

Surgeons from the Harley Medical Group, which fitted more PIP implants than any other British firm noticed phenomena such as pus, redness, lumpy granular tissue and a milky secretion

The MPs say more information is also needed on the difficulty of taking out implants after they have split.

If this proves to be trickier than thought, it could lead to a recommendation for them to be taken out when still intact.

Latest figures show that up to 47,000 British women have French-made PIP implants filled with a gel believed to have been made for mattresses.

Industry experts say that the combination of cut-price implants and low payments to surgeons would have allowed clinics using PIPs to make an extra profit of up to 1,000 per patient.

Tests have confirmed that the implants do not cause cancer.

However, the Department of Health admits they should never have been put in the human body and the Health Secretary has cleared the way for all women who want them removed to have it done.

The Government has said private clinics have a ‘moral duty’ to take out those they put in. If they don’t, the NHS will step in and the Government will try to claw back the money from the clinics at a later date.

The Health Select Committee said that while it agrees that private clinics have an obligation to help their patients, the argument of a ‘moral imperative’ is compelling but difficult to enforce.

It also says that consideration must be given to whether clinics that put in thousands of implants have the time, space and manpower to remove them all.

The report calls for a strengthening of the kite mark system, backs the setting up of a register of breast implants and recommends a review of cosmetic surgery insurance.

It also warns that in some cases the sector has been commercialised and trivialised and says that advertising of cosmetic surgery should not be targeted at under-18s.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic surgeons said that women would be reassured by the recommendation that private patients can pay to have new implants put in on the NHS if their clinic refuses to help.

But the association’s president Fazel Fatah warned it should not be seen as a ‘get-out’ clause by private clinics.

Health Minister Lord Howe said that two reviews are already underway to ensure the scandal is not repeated.

He said the onus remains on private clinics and said that when the NHS does have to pay for their patients, they will be pursued for the costs.