The medical devices regulator has told patients with metal-on-metal hip replacements about potential problems with the prostheses and to undergo tests. Guest author and expert in product liability law, Brian McFerran, joins us to explain more…
It’s estimated that 56,000 people in the UK have been fitted with metal-on-metal (MOM) hip replacements. They were introduced to the UK in the 1990s and promoted as offering better function and longevity than the traditional metal ball and plastic socket prostheses.
Manufacturer DePuy launched its ASR MOM prostheses in the UK in 2003. However, after only a few years, surgeons began raising concerns about the devices, noticing a pattern of early failure potentially caused by a reaction to metal debris coming from the hip replacement.
Failed hip replacements
In 2010, the UK medical devices regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), issued a medical device alert recommending surgeons keep MOM patients under close surveillance. On 24 August the same year, the ASR prosthesis was voluntarily recalled by DePuy.
Now, the MHRA has issued a new alert for all MOM prostheses, expanding the pool of patients thought to be at risk of suffering an adverse reaction to their metal hip replacement and recommending additional tests, even where patients aren’t suffering any symptoms.
In some circumstances, patients can bring claims for compensation if their metal hip fails early. However, these are subject to very strict time limits, meaning patients may be prevented from bringing claims if they’ve missed one of these deadlines.
Paying the bill
Of course, the burden of the pain and suffering caused by this type of reaction and revision surgery is borne by the patient and their loved ones.
But what about the financial burden? Consultations with surgeons, x-rays, MRI scans and blood tests don’t come cheap and a revision surgery (where the hip replacement is removed and replaced) can cost upwards of £15,000.
Most people will have treatment on the NHS, but should the tax payer be footing the bill for this?
The NHS is already stretched and it has been reported it’s limiting the number of hip-replacement operations offered. Patients are left on ever-lengthening waiting lists and ultimately prolonging their pain.
DePuy implemented a scheme for its ASR prosthesis in 2010. This meant that patients could opt for private treatment and could recoup their reasonable expenses associated with the revision surgery.
Regrettably, DePuy is changing the terms of the scheme. This means that, while it will consider covering the costs of revision surgeries that take place within 10 years of implantation, after 24 August 2017, it will no longer pay for the necessary pre-revision medical tests and exams.
The stark result will be increased pressure on the NHS at the very same time the regulator is recommending more check-ups and a lower threshold for revision surgery.
That’s why the consumer law firm Leigh Day is calling on DePuy to continue to pay for medical tests for at least another three years. This will relieve pressure on the NHS and ensure patients are treated promptly.
This is a guest post by Brian McFerran of Leigh Day, an expert in product liability law. All views expressed here are Brian’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Do you agree that DePuy should extend its scheme? Who do you think should foot the bill for failed hip replacements?