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MPs raise concerns over government stance on PIP implants

The NHS in England will not replace privately-fitted PIP implants even if the procedure is paid for, despite MPs warning of the potential risks of two separate operations in quick succession.

A report by the Health Select Committee PIP Breast Implants and the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions urged the government to rethink its NHS Offer to women affected by the PIP implant scandal.

The committee said women with privately-fitted PIP implants whose original private clinic no longer exists or refuses to provide treatment should be allowed the option to pay for a private fitting of replacement breast implants during the same surgery as the NHS removal of the PIP implants.

Such an offer would mitigate the potential risks that could arise from women having to go under the knife twice in quick succession, it is claimed.

Currently, women with privately-fitted PIP implants are only able to have their implants removed but not replaced on the NHS where a clinical need is shown.

While giving evidence to committee members earlier this year, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh was reluctant to endorse the recommendation, as he said the responsibility for a lifetime aftercare that would fall to the NHS following the replacement operation would place a “significant burden” on the health service.

“Many women who have been let down by the private sector will see the NHS now as their preferred option,” he said.

“If they can have an operation at a vastly reduced cost in the NHS, that will impose a significant burden on the NHS.

It will also have knock-on implications and opportunity cost for other patients.”

MPs acknowledged their recommendation would need to be “carefully though through” but said the accounting and administration “should not be the cause of women putting themselves through two operations in quick succession.”

Health Minister Earl Howe was quick to distance the government from the committee's stance.

"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,” he said.

“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. 

"We are looking at how we can recoup costs from private clinics and will continue to pursue this avenue so that the NHS isn't left to pick up the tab. Private clinics have a moral obligation to look after their patients.

“I am deeply saddened to hear stories of women being turned away from clinics - they should be taking care of these women."

The committee's report also criticises the Expert Group's review - led by Keogh - into the safety of PIP implants.

Among the review's conclusions, the group found no causal link between the sub-standard implants and cancer. It claimed the “striking” absence of evidence caused the group to “hedge its conclusions”, which led to the policy response to become “one of judgment and caution, rather than scientific imperative”.

It is estimated around 47,000 UK women are affected by the PIP scandal - made by French company Poly Implant Prothese. It is believed only 3,000 of these women received their implants through the NHS.

Question: What is your view on the Health Select Committee's recommendation for allowing women to pay for the replacement of PIP implants on the NHS?