An Antrim man will be the first person in Northern Ireland to sue a major orthopaedics firm over a suspected defective hip implant.
Austin Willis is taking legal action against DePuy — part of Johnston & Johnston — after he was forced to have a second hip replacement operation two years after the failure of the first.
The civil servant (51) from Carrickfergus is among thousands of patients worldwide who believe faulty hip-repair implants have caused serious health problems.
And there are now fears that other metal-on-metal (MOM) hip implant products — including the DePuy ‘Pinnacle’ implant with which Mr Willis was fitted — may also give rise to similar issues.
The sports-mad father-of-three told how his ordeal began: “I took a sudden pain in my pelvic area and, following an X-ray and scan, I was told I needed to get my hip replaced. Obviously this was a huge shock at 48 because you generally associate this with older people,” he said.
In February 2009 his hip was replaced with an MOM implant.
“I was in agony for four months after the surgery,” Mr Willis said.
But 11 months later tests showed up infection and that the implant had to be replaced.
In February 2011 Mr Willis had a second operation, privately this time, and a new COC (ceramic-on-ceramic) hip was inserted
Mr Willis, who is now pressing ahead with his civil action, added: “I feel for anybody who’s older and had to go through a hip operation twice because of that.”
A spokesman for DePuy said its MOM system “is performing consistent with or better than other metal-on-metal products and consistent with benchmarks set by the UK National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence”.
He added: “We will continue to appropriately monitor and share data with regulators.
“The majority of patients implanted with MOM hip replacements have well functioning hips and are thought to be at a low risk of developing serious problems.
“A small number of patients implanted with these hips may, however, develop progressive soft tissue reactions to the wear debris associated with MoM articulations.”
Possible dangers associated with the cobalt-chrome alloy used to make metal-on-metal hips have been documented since the mid-1970s. Tiny metal ions appear to break off from the implants and leak into the blood, causing local reactions that destroy muscle and bone, causing severe pain and even disability. There are also concerns about damage to chromosomes, which could increase the risk of cancers.
Failure rate likely to be higher than previous estimate
By Stuart Gilmore
In August 2010, DePuy Orthopaedics recalled its ASR Hip Resurfacing System and ASR XL Acetabular System from the market.
DePuy Orthopaedics confirmed that data received by the firm showed more people than expected had experienced pain and other symptoms that led to a second hip replacement surgery.
The UK Medical Healthcare Products and Regulatory Agency has now issued guidelines to hospitals dealing with this and similar products.
Patients fitted with any metal-on-metal replacement hip should now be assessed regularly to ensure the implant is not degrading.
Since the product was launched in July 2003, more than 10,000 people in the UK and Ireland have been fitted with a DePuy ASR hip implant.
Other metal-on-metal hip implant products, including the DePuy Pinnacle implant, may also give rise to similar issues.
As a result of the earlier than expected failure rate of the implants, patients began experiencing intense pain and weakness of the hip.
This is often a result of the metal hip joint degrading, releasing metallic ions into the bloodstream, causing pseudo-tumours and blood poisoning.
In September 2010 the BBC reported that around 200 people in Northern Ireland could be facing further surgery. This is almost certainly a significant under-estimate.
I am advising clients in respect of these cases. If their hip has failed and they have been scheduled for revision surgery, they may well be entitled to make a claim for compensation through the civil courts.
Belfast solicitor Stuart Gilmore is representing Mr Willis