Claims Arising out of Hip Replacements

Hip replacement operations are generally considered to be a relatively straightforward procedure which can considerably improve the quality of life of the patient. 

I was therefore concerned to read in the Saturday edition of The Telegraph on 14 June, that NHS hip operations have claimed more than 40 lives following patients suffering a toxic reaction to the bone cement used. 

Incredibly, patient safety and drug watchdogs first raised the alarm about the cement in 2009 and it was labelled “Bone Cement Implantation Syndrome”.  Guidelines were brought in to reduce the risks through careful patient assessment and revised anaesthetic and surgical techniques.  Nevertheless, most of these deaths have occurred after 2009, suggesting that the implementation of the guidelines is inadequate. 

The evidence is that the bone cement can lead to high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia and heart attack which is very worrying, bearing in mind many of the patients are elderly people who already have heart problems.  Hence the need for careful assessment of the risks. 

Of the total 41 people who died, 14 of these suffered a heart attack and 7 suffered a “peri-arrest” period where their condition became dangerously unstable following the surgery.  In 55 out of the 62 cases, where people reacted, the problem occurred within 3 minutes of the cement being applied. 

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, who carried out the recent survey expressed concern that the orthopaedic surgery community seems to have concluded that the benefits of cement outweigh the risks.  However, he urged the NHS need to look carefully as to whether it is really necessary to use cement, and when an operation might be successful without using it. 

Patient awareness will obviously assist to ensure that each case is looked at on its individual merits.