In December 2011 the news was filled with scandal surrounding reports of malfunctioning breast implants manufactured by now-liquidated French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP). The implants were prone to rupture and cause irritation, inflammation and lumps. In around 20% of women with faulty PIP implants, breast cancer was found. Although French authorities were able to prove no link between cancer and the implant itself, this statistic alone was a huge shock to the 400,000 women fitted with PIP implants.
It is estimated that there are around 40,000 women in the UK fitted with PIP implants. With many women now eager to remove or replace their implants this issue has generated a large number of calls to private medical insurance companies.
What are PIP implants?
PIP implants are similar to many other breast implants on the market and form the outside it’s unlikely you’d notice anything wrong. However these particular implants contain chemicals such as Silopren, Rhodorsil and Baysilone which are more at home in industrial rubber and fuel than in our bodies!
The material found in PIP implants has no place in the human body. The French manufacturer originally used the material when they were able to import it from eastern Europe cheaply, making a 700% saving in cost when compared to material with an EU stamp of approval.
What problems have been reported?
Women with PIP implants have reported a number of issues. These are the most common examples:
- Breast tumours
- Implant rupture
Are PIP implants safe?
PIP implants are no longer available to purchase. As they use industrial grade silicone rather than medical grade they have not been approved for the purpose for which they have been used. While this may not present problems while the implant is intact there is a high likelihood of them bursting, and if this is the case it could cause considerable complications.
It’s important to note that although a number of studies have been carried out, none have found a conclusive link between cancer and PIP implants. A review of PIP implants by the NHS found them to have a rupture rate two times of that of other implants.
What is the NHS position?
All women who were fitted with PIP implants on the NHS are entitled to have them removed and replaced with approved implants for no cost. However, due to lack of evidence and the scale of the problem the NHS is reluctant to recommend the routine removal of the implants.
If implants were fitted privately and a woman is suffering symptoms as a result of the implant, the NHS will remove the implant, but will not replace them.
How do I know whether I have PIP implants?
Many women have no idea which brand of implants they have. If you’re unsure the quickest way to find out is to get in touch with your original surgeon, they will be able to tell you which brand was used.
Will my insurer pay for removal and replacement?
In short, it depends. All insurance companies have their own policies so can vary, but generally the practice to date has been as follows.
Implant for cosmetic reasons – There is no benefit under your insurance policy. Remember your insurers definition of cosmetic is quite broad ranging and includes treatment, or any consequence of treatment, that is intended to change your appearance, whether or not this is carried out for psychological or medical reasons
Implant for breast reconstruction after cancer – If your implant was initially inserted following a mastectomy operations for cancer, benefit will be usually be provided for a consultation with a surgeon to discuss the options available to you.
If you are subsequently recommended a replacement of the implant your insurer will look to the guidelines offered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to see if the current evidence supports removal in your particular circumstance.
For up to date information regarding PIP implants either call your insurer to check their stance or visit the NHS website. The NHS site is not only constantly updated to reflect the latest research and legal situation, it also highlights warning signs that patients can watch out for, making it a useful resource for worried patients.
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