The fight goes on for PIP victims

Having a say: Protesters gather outside The Harley Medical Group office in Harley Street, London, to call for private clinics to replace PIP breast implants for free.                          Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Having a say: Protesters gather outside The Harley Medical Group office in Harley Street, London, to call for private clinics to replace PIP breast implants for free. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
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Have your say

Scores of local women are living with the knowledge that they are victims of the PIP implant scandal - and have silicone originally intended as mattress filling in their breasts.

They are among the estimated 40,000 UK women believed to have been given the French-made implants, which in a global scandal last December were found to contain potentially dangerous industrial silicone which may be more prone to rupture and leakage.

Women in South Yorkshire now discovering they were fitted with PIP implants at private clinics within the county are desperately in need of help and guidance, says a local clinician who has set up a support group and helpline for them.

Cheryl Barton, co-director of the Aesthetika Clinic at North Anston, says: “Through no fault of their own, women have in their bodies a substance that was never designed to be for such use. We are trying to give them guidance and have set up support groups on Twitter and Facebook and staged a drop-in day at the clinic.

“Nearly two months into this story breaking, some women still don’t even know if their implants are PIPs. Clinics were slow in releasing information, patients have to pay a fee to find out and those who then have confirmation of PIPs are being told removal and replacement fees are from £2,900. These girls feel abandoned.”

Mr McShane, MP for Rotherham is fighting for help for private patients after hearing the deep concerns of those in his constituency.

He is calling for the NHS to pick up the tab on removal and replacement of PIP implants for private patients. Currently the NHS in England is only removing and replacing implants on women it originally treated on medical grounds.

The situation is much less clear for women who paid for implants privately. Some clinics are offering free removal and replacement if it’s clinically necessary; others are only offering free removal.

“Women who had these operations privately have been hung out to dry,” says Mr McShane.

“Firstly they were left to navigate the situation by themselves and now they are being told the NHS is only going to help them so far, and in certain cases.

“We do not say to people who fall ill because of their own life style they will only get basic treatment and not replacement of defective prostheses.

“There are cost implications but in Wales the NHS is both taking out problematic breast implants and replacing them. Yet in England we have a Conservative Secretary of State who is insisting frightened women may have the implant removed but have to pay for the cost of a replacement and the costs of any follow-up treatment on a private basis. This is unfair.

“A woman should leave the hospital as they went in - with the breasts she feels define her and give her a sense of self esteem.”

For the last 20 days, a young Rotherham woman has been living with the knowledge that industrial-grade silicon has been leaking into her body.

It will be another 19 days before Sarah Cope will get to see the surgeon who put the PIP implants into her breasts. And even longer before the silicon originally deemed fit only to fill a mattress can be removed from her chest.

She is fearful for her long-term health, but also acutely aware that had the PIP scandal not broken, and had she not subsequently managed to organise her own breast scan at Rotherham District General, she would still be none the wiser about her ruptured implants.

The social services contact worker went from an A cup to a 34D in an operation provided by Rotherham’s Birkdale Clinic in February 2007.

The 24-year-old didn’t have her implants because she wanted to look sexy; she had them because she wanted to look and feel like a normal woman.

She explains: “My natural breasts were tiny. I was so flat-chested, I felt self-conscious and never had any confidence. My dream was to have surgery and look like a proper woman.”

Her dream came true thanks to her mother taking out a loan to pay the £3,700 bill and it took three years for Sarah to pay her back. But less than two years later, she was reeling in shock. News reports of the PIP silicon implant scandal had sent her scurrying through her purse for the card she had, listing details of her operation.

“It said I had PIP implants; I didn’t know what to do. I rang Birkdale Clinic again and again for over two weeks but could never get through. So I went in person and was told there was no need to worry and to look at their website for guidance. There was no one I could see; I was disgusted,” she says.

Sarah, of Herringthorpe, joined an online support group through Facebook, and through it discovered how to contact her surgeon. She made an appointment, but was told that at the March 19 consultation she would need to produce a scan of her breasts. Using her own initiative, she managed to get herself scanned at Rotherham Hospital – and learned that there was indeed something to worry about. The implant in her right breast had ruptured.

Her surgeon has brought forward her consultation by six days, but still the wait seems interminable. “I was in shock when I found out about the rupture; I’d had no symptoms whatsoever. I’d urge every woman who knows she has PIP implants to have a scan done as soon as possible, even if they haven’t seen or felt any difference in their breasts,” she says.

Her surgeon has offered to remove the implants for free. She believes she will have to pay anaesthetists’ fees and the cost of new implants; despite her experience, she cannot bear the prospect of being left flat-chested again.

And all Sarah can do now is wait. “I’m trying not to think about what could be going on inside me because it’s so easy to get paranoid about every little twinge and start panicking about what damage could be being done to my health.”

Helen was just 18 when she went under the surgeon’s knife.

Now 22 and mother to a seven-month old baby, she has discovered she was given PIP implants at Birkdale Clinic in Rotherham and is terrified for her future.

“I thought having breasts was the be-all and end-all. I was tiny and flat-chested and hated the way I looked.

“But now I’m a mother I know there are a lot more important things in life than the size of your breasts,” says the young woman who refuses to be named in case it puts her surgeon off giving her a cut-price replacement.

“I wish I had never had them done. I was too young. I’d urge any girl to wait until after having children because your body and your priorities change so much.

“I feel now that I can’t trust any implant is ever going to be safe. But I’m trapped; I am desperate to have them removed as soon as possible but if I don’t have new implants put back in, my body will look horrendous. And I have no money to pay for that.”

The mother of missing Sheffield boy Ben Needham has also learned her breast implants contain industrial silicone.

Kerry Grist, of Ecclesfield, had the implants in 2004, after the stress of 21-month-old Ben’s disappearance on holiday in 1991 caused her weight to plummet.

“When I found out in December, it sent me into shock. It is frightening to have this industrial silicone inside you and not know what could happen from one day to the next,” says Kerry, 40, who is supporting a call for cosmetic firms to remove and replace implants for free and urging the Government to step in.

Transform Medical Group, which carried out Kerry’s £3,850 operation, is one of those which have not agreed to free replacement. The clinic said it cannot comment on individual cases.

Signs to look for

SYMPTOMS to watch for if you have PIP implants:

Lumpiness

Swelling

Change in shape

Deflation

Redness

Tenderness

Pain or sensitivity

PIP implant advice

IF YOU had a PIP implant on the NHS, you will receive a letter and if you decide you want your implants replaced, the NHS will do it free.

If you had them done privately, the NHS advice is to find out if you have PIP implants by checking your medical notes at your clinic or GP, get advice on whether you need a scan then discuss removal with your doctor.

If your private clinic no longer exists or refuses to remove the implants, speak to your GP. The NHS will remove your implants if your doctor agrees there is a medical need.

Birkdale Clinic in Rotherham says:

“We sympathise with women who have had breast implants, either PIP or others, as the media publicity may be causing mental stress even though the Government have confirmed that the implants are safe and there is no need to remove them unless they are ruptured.

The company now trading as Birkdale Clinic has never used PIP implants but is trying to help by getting records from storage of about 5,000 past patients, of which about 1,200 may have PIP implants.

Our Liverpool hospital has been offering free hospital facilities for replacement for ruptured implants even when we had no legal obligation. If implants are not ruptured, the company is offering removal and re-augmentation at a reduced fee.

“PIP implants were approved by the Government; we feel it is their responsibility to arrange consultation and removal and re-augmentation for all women who have them.”