Concern over hip implants

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HIP replacements have long been regarded as one of the great miracles of modern medical science.

Whereas it was once accepted that patients suffering from arthritis and other debilitating conditions would have no alternative to an immobile and pain-racked old age, their sufferings can now be alleviated swiftly and relatively simply thanks to the invention of artificial hips.

Indeed, with more and more people coming to need hip replacements, for the simple reason that they are living far longer than they were, a once complex medical procedure has become almost a routine rite-of-passage for the elderly.

Yet this makes it all the more concerning that there is increasing evidence that this operation, far from providing a comfortable old age, may actually be threatening the health of many recipients, or at least causing them grave concern that their health may be endangered.

It is, of course, important to avoid creating any sort of panic over the latest findings that failed implants may be exposing patients to dangerously high levels of toxic metals. But this is all the more reason why it is important that as much information as possible on this situation is made available to the public.

For it is increasingly clear that, among all previous discussion of this problem, alerting the patient to the possible pitfalls of having a so-called metal-on-metal hip replacement – the technique which largely replaced metal-and-plastic implants during the 1990s – was last on the list of experts’ considerations.

Indeed, according to an investigation by the BBC and the British Medical Journal, tissue reactions associated with metal ions were first described as long ago as 1975. Yet not only did manufacturers opt to keep quiet about the possible dangers, regulators, too, failed to take any action with regard to alerting patients.

The longer a potential problem of this magnitude is hushed up, the greater it becomes. Yes, there are huge implications in terms of legal redress and possible future demands on the NHS. But these will not be avoided by ducking the issues.

Following so soon after the scare over faulty breast implants, it is vital that the confidence of patients is restored as soon as possible. Yet that process can only begin with a full and frank examination of why they have been kept in the dark for so long.