CAMPAIGNERS have called for Scotland to follow Wales and offer women with faulty breast implants replacement surgery amid growing concerns about failings in National Health Service care.
Hundreds of women in Scotland have expressed concerns at the lack of NHS and Scottish Government support more than 18 months after it emerged they had been given PIP implants filled with industrial silicone.
At a meeting with Health Secretary Alex Neil this month, campaigners urged him to reconsider the decision to only offer women implant removal without the promise of reconstructive surgery afterwards.
They also expressed concerns that GPs and other doctors were not taking their problems seriously, making moral judgments about their decision to have implants for cosmetic reasons.
But despite Neil promising to help the women, the PIP Implants Scotland Campaign group said it remained angry at the lack of action from the Scottish Government and the NHS.
Spokeswoman Trisha Devine said women had been told that having the implants removed without having replacements would leave them disfigured, making them unwilling to have surgery.
Meanwhile, although those wanting replacements on the NHS had been told they would have to go through the same procedure as other patients wanting cosmetic treatment, Devine said she knew of no women who had succeeded in navigating this process successfully. Even getting past the first hurdle of being referred to a specialist by their GP had proved difficult.
“The women can’t get treated at present by the GPs because the GPs aren’t sympathetic. They think it is the private clinics that have to deal with it, so what chances are they going to have further down the line?” she asked. “I think the GPs and even the specialists have their own personal views on the situation. They think breast implants are not necessary, breast implants are cosmetic and it is nothing to do with them.”
Following the meeting with Neil, Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns issued a letter to NHS staff outlining the care that should be provided to PIP victims but which did not reverse the decision on implant replacements.
Devine, who had her PIP implants removed and replaced privately, said: “Face-to-face he [Neil] appeared to be quite concerned and wanted to help. He told me that he was concerned that these women had been going through this for a year-and-a-half and he would do anything in his power to help them.
“I told him that what you are going to have to do then is provide replacements. If they can do it in Wales, why can’t our government do it here?”
Devine said the campaign estimated that only 300-400 women in Scotland would need their implants replaced by the NHS.
She added: “It is like a moral judgment being made that this is only cosmetic, it doesn’t matter. You paid for this surgery so why should we help you? These women need to be treated. They have serious issues going on and nobody can tell them what the future is going to hold.”
An estimated 4,000 women in Scotland received implants made by French firm Poly Implant Prothese, which triggered an international health scare when it emerged they were filled with silicone usually used in mattresses.
The implants are also more prone to rupture and some women whose implants have burst have experienced pain and lumps in their breasts.
All the PIP implants used in Scotland were put in by private-sector providers. But where these companies are unwilling to provide further treatment, or have gone out of business, the NHS has agreed to step in to provide surgery to remove them.
Patrick McGuire, from Thompsons Solicitors, which is representing women in their legal battle over the faulty implants, said the letter issued following the meeting with Neil had simply made clear the NHS stance not to provide replacement implants at the time the faulty ones were removed.
But the situation in Scotland stands in stark contrast to Wales, where replacements had been offered. The NHS in England has also refused to replace implants.
“It is standing against logic and it is standing against the best health of the women involved,” he said. “I have little doubt that the reason that it is being done is that value judgments are being brought to bear here, and moral judgments are being brought to bear and they [the NHS and Scottish Government] are not seeing the plight of these women as different and the situation is not being properly recognised.”
The campaigners have also called for a public inquiry into the PIP implant scandal, which is believed to have affected more than 40,000 women across the UK.
Neil said: “Patient safety has to be the top priority and I have given my commitment that the NHS in Scotland will provide help to those women who need to have their PIP implants removed when their private surgery provider refuses.
“The medical advice we have been given is that implants will only be replaced when there is a clinical need to do so. Any woman who is worried about their implants should contact their surgeon or healthcare provider for advice.”