Hundreds of NZ hip replacements are faulty

By Hana Garrett-Walker

James Elliott with the artificial hip joint that he had to have replaced because of a design fault.  File photo / Natalie Slade
James Elliott with the artificial hip joint that he had to have replaced because of a design fault. File photo / Natalie Slade

A victim of a faulty hip replacement is not confident an inquiry will be launched into metal-on-metal implants, despite another 400 patients this week finding out their replacements could be faulty.

James Elliott, who had a hip replacement in 2009, fell victim to the first major international hip implant recall in 2010.

His Johnson & Johnson articular surface replacement was one of about 500 in New Zealand recalled after tiny metal fragments were found to be breaking off. He is among a group of New Zealanders planning to sue the company.

Since the 2010 recall, three more metal-on-metal replacement joints from various companies have been found to be faulty.

This week British manufacturer Smith & Nephew said its Birmingham hip modular head was not performing as well as expected and was contacting New Zealand surgeons and asking them to contact affected patients.

Medsafe group manager Dr Stewart Jessamine said the fault with the metal-on-metal hip implants did not mean patients would require further surgery, but they would need more regular checks.

The alert prompted Labour's health spokeswoman Maryan Street to renew calls for an urgent inquiry into the safety of metal-on-metal hip replacement devices.

"This is the fourth time in three years that there has been worldwide action taken over these components, and the second since June,'' she said.

Mr Elliott has previously gone to the Health Select Committee to call for an inquiry into metal-on-metal replacements, but the committee declined.

An Australian Senate inquiry into the Johnson & Johnson issue found the suffering of Australian patients was "intolerable and completely unacceptable'', Mr Elliott said.

"Obviously the Australians saw the importance of that, the findings were highly alarming and highly concerning and the point we're trying to make is ... you have to investigate in the same way in New Zealand.''

Although the number of patients affected was likely to increase he did not believe the Government would launch an inquiry "because they've just formed the view that they don't want it''.

"How much does it take for them to exercise the responsibility that we gave them by voting them in to look after the interests of the population? To me this is far more grave and important than the Dotcom stuff.''

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the safety of the devices was under surveillance by multiple specialist agencies in Europe, the United States and the rest of the world.

"We don't think a parliamentary inquiry is appropriate because the cause of the alert is well understood. In this case, it appears the joint replacements are wearing out sooner than expected. Patients should not hesitate to talk to their surgeons.''

Mr Ryall said Medsafe's public advice about the alert, which was one of the first globally, showed New Zealand's alert system was working well and the industry was responding.

- APNZ

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