Has the UK Government spoken too soon on PIP implants?

As is the way of all media storms, the PIP scandal dominated the news for a short while, before being replaced by the next story. But for the many tens of thousands of women who are still living with their original PIP implants the nightmare has not gone away.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to say how many women still have PIP implants. The Breast Implant Register was abandoned by the government ten years ago so exact figures of how many PIP implants were inserted are only an estimate – it is thought that approximately 47,000 women were augmented with these implants before their use was banned in 2010.

For the same reason we don’t know how many have been removed, but the number is very small in comparison to women in France who have been offered free removal and replacement by the French government.

The UK government’s reaction to the PIP scandal

In January 2012, the Department of Health advised women that unless PIP implants had ruptured or were causing pain and tenderness then there was no need to remove them. It stated that these women could have them removed on the NHS, but unless they’d had their original surgery with the NHS they would not be able to have reaugmentation as well.

This, coupled with a reluctance of most of the Private Clinics to offer a free removal and replacement to the women they’d given PIP implants to, means that there are still many thousands of women who have what I believe is a problem waiting to happen sooner rather than later.

I believe that the government’s advice that there is no need to remove PIP implants is misleading and they have spoken too soon. The MHRA – the UK Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency – concluded in May 2012 that PIP implants were two to six times more likely to rupture than other implants and three to five times more likely to cause problems when they did fail.

Only a month after this report by the MHRA, the NHS presented its Final Report which stated that PIP implants were two times as likely to rupture (the lowest figure presented by the MHRA), but that there was no health risk and so therefore there was no need to change the Department of Health’s official guidelines.

The report made no mention of the impact of this leaking gel on the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue, which many of us consultant plastic surgeons have noted when we’ve removed ruptured PIP implants. They also presented no evidence of any tests carried out on the gel of ruptured implants.

Recent updates

Such a study is now under way as a joint Italian-UK research programme but the Swedish Health authorities have recently urged women with PIP implants to have them removed as the industrial-grade silicone is considered to present a serious risk to unborn babies.

My belief is that we shouldn’t be waiting for these implants to rupture before we remove them. The associated problems and distress caused to these women is not justifiable. I believe the government has spoken too soon on gel safety and hope that this is not due to expediency, but merely a case of inadequate advice. Their advice should be revised in favour of proactive removal sooner rather than later.