The response of the government and regulators to a massive breast implant scandal which affected thousands of British women was slow and inadequate, a group of MPs said Wednesday.
The House of Commons Health Committee noted that “urgent action” to gather evidence and warn women of the possible risks only came 21 months after surgeons were alerted to potentially faulty PIP implants.
MPs also called on the Department of Health to consider allowing women who had faulty implants inserted at private clinics to have them removed and replaced in one procedure conducted by the NHS.
However, the replacement procedure would need to be paid for, not funded by the health service. Patients who had implants privately can currently have them removed on the NHS but not replaced.
A total of 47,000 British women are believed to have been given the implants manufactured by the now-defunct Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which have caused a global health scare.
The implants, thought to have been given to more than 400,000 women around the world, were filled with industrial-grade silicone which increased the risk of rupture.
MPs described the delay in warning women affected as “surprising” and said efforts by thegovernment and its medicines watchdog to raise public awareness as “inadequate”.
A review into the issue, currently being carried out, should examine whether sufficient effort was made to trace and contact those at risk, the committee said.
“Given the fact that 40,000 women were known to have received sub-standard implants, the very scale of the problem alone should have provoked a high-profile policy response much sooner, including urgent action to gather evidence that would allow the risks of these implants to be properly assessed,” the report said.
The committee demanded more evidence be gathered on the health risks posed by the implants.
Evidence from one clinic suggests between one in four and one in five women have suffered from pus as well as “redness and lumpy, granular tissue” and silicone in the lymph nodes.
The issue of whether women should face two separate procedures to have their implants replaced and removed was also examined by the committee.
Its chairman, former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, told the BBC: “It flies in the face of common sense to put women through two procedures when one will do.”
But Health Minister Lord Howe, who will publish his review into the response of the government and regulator after Easter, said allowing patients to pay for treatment would “set a precedent” and undermine a “founding principle of the NHS” of free, universal healthcare.