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A shameful way to treat women with PIP implants

VICTORIA Buchanan had breast implants in 2005.

She thinks they may have ruptured. She has health problems which could be caused by leaking silicone. When she raised her worries with the company that performed her surgery, she was fobbed off.

Victoria from Aberdeen is one of 40,000 women in Britain, 4000 in Scotland, with PIP implants made with industrial grade silicone. There are untold thousands more with permanent facial fillers that could be dodgy.

They've all been treated as second-class citizens.

Why?

In Paula's words: "It's a case of a faulty product that can cause serious health complications and it shouldn't be in a human body."

That's why.

The governments in Edinburgh and London have failed in their duty to protect women. The nip, tuck and fillers industry has been off the leash too long. This buck stops with politicians.

We have all read about the French company, Poly Implant Prothese, and its cheap implants which are in danger of rupturing. What you might not have realised is that a quarter of the members of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons say they have treated patients with complications from permanent facial fillers who require surgery.

In the words of consultant plastic surgeon Barry Jones: "Breast implants and facial fillers are implantable devices – not medicines. They are not subject to the same stringent testing as pharmaceutical drugs."

That's putting it mildly. The question is, why not? Why in a society that is obsessed with health and safety, do our political leaders fail to protect the health of women who opt in ever greater numbers for cosmetic enhancement?

One former president of BAAPs said: 'It is even easier to make a facial filler in a garage in Krakow, Poland, than it is to make a breast implant."

How has this situation arisen? Why doesn't the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) take responsibility? As far back as 2006, a respected plastic surgeon working in Edinburgh told it he would no longer use PIP implants because of the irritation they caused and their high rupture rate. The agency did nothing.

Clearly, when it comes to cosmetic enhancement, British women are not protected by the state. American women are. In the United States facial fillers come under the control of the Food and Drug Administration. It might explain why only six products are permitted for use in the US compared to 160 in the UK.

Furthermore the authorities here permit – or fail to stop – British women receiving fillers from hairdressers, beauticians, dentists, nurses. They can even inject themselves at home since no medical training is legally required. (That is not the same as saying no medical training is necessary.)

Well, you might say, these women have only themselves to blame. If you think that, I couldn't agree with you less.

We have seen Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary at Westminster, and Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Health, tiptoe their way through statements that cover their backs, spare their pockets and point the finger at private clinics.

The 4000 women in Scotland with PIP implants can have consultations which could lead to implant removal on the NHS if that's deemed to be the best remedy. Ms Sturgeon urges private clinics to offer the same.

Don't get me wrong. The cosmetics industry is up to its greedy armpits in this scandal. But so too is government.

These women, like all other citizens, have grown up in a safe and regulated society. We can trust the bus to have well maintained brakes. We know that train tracks are mended and airplanes have enough fuel. We buy ready-made meals free from the fear of salmonella poisoning. We cross the road when the green man flashes. Most of all we trust the medical profession. We know the rigour that goes into the training of doctors and nurses and the high ethical codes they maintain.

It's as true in private medicine as it is in the NHS. Very often both sets of patients are treated by the same clinician.

British women approach cosmetic surgery with the same assumption of high standards. They attend a clinic where they are treated by a doctor or practitioner in a white coat. They presume that this too is regulated.

Why wouldn't it be? We are after all almost oppressed by health and safety legislation. Such is our obedience to it that in 2008 firemen stood for six hours around a disused mineshaft waiting for someone suitably trained to use their rescue equipment. Meanwhile Alison Hume, who had fallen into the shaft, was dying.

We are accustomed to reading about medical breakthroughs which will take years of testing before they can be used, even on the terminally ill. Safety is always the priority, except it seems when it comes to facial fillers and breast implants.

Who could guess they were unregulated?

Yes, individual women are still responsible for what they allow to happen to their bodies. But we're talking about women who are – let's remember – bombarded from cradle to grave with the need to conform to a physical stereotype. Changing the way you look has never been easier. Wrinkles can be erased in a lunch hour for the price of a good winter coat and a pair of boots.

There can't be a woman over 45 who hasn't stood in front of a mirror, placed a hand on each cheek and lifted her face back to where it was in its twenties. There can't be many of those who didn't consider filling in nose to mouth lines or tightening their forehead with a phial of Botox – if only for a minute.

Every one of them will read about PIP implants and fillers that permanently disfigure faces and think, "There but for ..-".

Women with PIP implants should all be urged to have them removed, just like the French, Germans and Czechs. Let's not hear that their ailment is self-inflicted while hospitals groan with patients who are there courtesy of drink, cigarettes, fast cars, extreme sports and gluttony.

Politicians need to focus on this. They need to remember that it isn't just a problem for 40,000 British women. This is a problem for all women.

All of us understand the self-esteem issues that lead to the knife or the injection needle. Under slightly different circumstances any of us could have taken the same route. And when it comes to polling day – we'll remember who was on our side.

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