Around 60 breast implant patients gathered outside The Harley Medical Group (THMG) premises on Harley Street on January 14, 2012 to protest against the clinic's refusal to replace, free of charge, any of the 13,900 faulty French-manufactured PIP (Poly Implant Prothese) silicone implants bought and surgically implanted into women by THMG which were filled with substandard industrial-grade silicone provided by German chemicals supplier Brenntag to save money, and which allegedly are more prone to rupture and leak than proper surgical-grade implants.
Brenntag rejected accusations of negligence on Friday, January 13, after a report it could face legal action over its role as silicone supplier to PIP, and has claimed the bulk silicone-gel it provided was clearly marked as unsuitable for use in implants.
The French government has advised the 30,000 women in France who have the implants to have them removed due to concerns they might rupture. Governments in several other countries, such as Britain and Brazil, have asked women to visit their doctors for checks, but as yet the NHS in Britain is not offering to remove the PIP implants, despite the risk of rupture and health risks caused by leaking silicone.
A French investigating judge visited PIP offices earlier in January as part of a probe into the death of a woman from cancer, which could lead to charges of involuntary homicide against the firm. French authorities ordered the company to withdraw its breast implants from the market in March 2010.
The average cost of a breast-augmentation proceedure from The Harley Medical Group is, like most of the very profitable high-end cosmetic surgery companies in and around Harley Street, somewhere in the region of £4,500 ( €5,450), and if this is accurate then Harley Street Medical has made somewhere in the region of £58.5 million ( €70.8 million) from fitting toxic PiP implants. The company issued a statement this week claiming that if they replaced the sub-standard implants for free they would go out of business, and the responsibility should fall on the NHS or PiP - who manufactured the lower-priced implants - to clean up the mess, but the demonstrators are angrily demanding that the private clinics foot the bill.
Several women at the protest still have leaking PIP implants in their breasts and are suffering a wide range of serious symptoms, but cannot afford to pay the same cosmetic surgeon to remove them, let alone replace them. This kind of luxury surgery is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase fore many women, and they are angered that their lives have been put at risk by cost-cutting, and that the culprits are attempting to walk away from the whole matter, leaving the UK taxpayer to foot the bill.
PIP implants were banned in France in 2010, with the French government advising 30,000 women to have their implants removed, but thus far the British government has offered very limited help to British patients, choosing instead to broadcast a public information video on national TV networks this weekend downplaying the risks, with Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley saying in press briefings that he expects private medical companies who have fitted the French implants to "step up to their responsibilities".