Thousands of British women fitted with faulty breast implants face further agony after a clinic at the centre of the scandal deliberately went into administration to avoid a possible multi-million-pound legal payout. The Harley Medical Centre faced legal claims from 1,700 women who suffered pain and distress after being fitted with defective PIP implants. But last week, the cosmetic surgery chain appointed administrators after its management complained that legal action could put the firm out of business.
Outrage: Protesters targeted the Harley Medical Group premises over the scandal
The Mail on Sunday has learned the group has transferred all of its doctors and clinics to a new company to allow it to continue performing cosmetic treatments – but without the threat of legal action by the damaged women. It was revealed last year the French-made PIP implants could rupture and leak industrial-grade silicone into the body. There were fears the substance could be toxic and cause cancer, although there is no evidence for this so far. Last night there was cross-party support for an investigation into the company's actions.
Still operating: Harley Medical founder Mel Braham with specialist cosmetic surgery nurse Penny Timberlake
Health Minister Lord Howe said: 'It is extremely disappointing that the Harley Medical Group has chosen to do this. All medical practices have a duty of care towards their patients, which should include appropriate compensation if treatments go wrong. We will be looking into this as a matter of urgency.' Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said he would today write to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask for the Care Quality Commission and General Medical Council to look at the issue.
Faulty: Defective silicone gel breast implant manufactured by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) removed from a patient
Mr Burnham said: 'It's an example of capitalism at its most irresponsible and unethical. It's a straight- forward breach of the duty of care that any doctor – public or private – owes to a patient. It raises questions about their fitness to practise. All avenues should be explored, including an appeal to the CQC in terms of their registration, and to the GMC in terms of whether any practitioners have broken professional codes. To wash their hands of this is not acceptable.'
Banned: The Harley Medical Group's advert for breast enlargement which was outlawed by the Advertising Standards Authority
Harley Medical Group, set up in 1984 by Australian entrepreneur Mel Braham, has played a controversial central role in the PIP scandal. The chain supplied more of the implants than any other UK firm, fitting them in 13,900 women between 2001 and 2011. Manufactured by French firm Poly Implants Prothese, which went into liquidation, the rupture rate was far higher than for other implants, and some contained non-medical silicone normally used in mattress production.
The Government agreed to remove and replace those that the NHS gave to 3,000 women, and claimed private clinics had a 'moral duty' to offer the same service. However, in January, chief executive Mr Braham announced the company could not afford to meet the cost and claimed the Government should foot the bill. Many of Harley Medical's patients complained they could not get through to the company by phone, while the firm said it would only remove for free those implants that had ruptured. The NHS has treated nearly 900 of Harley Medical's patients, 134 of whom need the implants removed, after claims the company would not help them. Documents filed at Companies House reveal Aesthetic and Cosmetic Surgery Ltd was set up in September with the same directors as Harley Medical Centre and based at the same address near Harley Street.
'Moral duty': Mel Braham said the company could not afford to meet costs of removing and replacing implants
It will still be called Harley Medical Group and Mr Braham remains chief executive. His daughter Louise and her husband Pierre Guillot are fellow directors. Mr Braham, 71, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune from macadamia nuts, lives in a £1.6 million riverfront apartment in West London. On Thursday the London Gazette revealed administrators Leonard Curtis had been appointed by the company on November 9. Daniel Yea, from Maitland Communications, acting for the company and the administrators, said: 'They are still functioning as before, still providing surgery and honouring bookings. It's the same directors, surgeons, premises and website but under a different holding company. The liabilities will not be transferred. The liabilities resulting from the class action die with the previous company. Women scheduled to have PIPs removed by Harley Medical will still have that done. The only difference is that legal claims against Harley Medical Centre will no longer be able to take place.' There are 3,000 women involved in a PIP class action, being led by solicitor Mark Harvey at Hugh James. The majority are taking action against Harley Medical.
Bankruptcy: The Harley Medical Group deliberately went into administration to avoid a possible multi-million pound legal payout
A legal source said: 'Lawyers are in discussions with administrators with a view to exploring the other remedies that are available. Women who have paid for surgery with a credit card will be able to pursue claims against their credit card companies. And it may still be possible to take action against individual doctors rather than the clinic.' A spokeswoman for Official PIP Campaign UK said: 'The company has failed to ensure the victims are suitably compensated so that women can draw a line under this distressing situation.'
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, added: 'It's deceptive and deceitful and it's letting patients down.' A spokesman for Harley Medical Group said: 'Harley Medical Group has always put patient care at the heart of everything we do. The situation with PIP implants wasn't of our making; it arose as a result of a sophisticated fraud by the suppliers of these implants, perpetrated over a long period of time that went undetected by regulators for 12 consecutive years. In response to this we have acted in the best interest of our patients and we will continue to do so. Despite being a victim of this fraud, we were faced with liabilities arising from a class action we simply wouldn't have been able to survive. That's why we took the decision that it was in the best interest of our patients that we restructure our business, allowing us to continue to care for patients who have medical issues arising from PIP implants, and to continue the rest of our business as normal.'
'I feel worried, angry and let down'
Mother of three Kim Purser, right, felt 'completely let down' by Harley Medical Group after she had PIP implants fitted in July 2009. After the scandal broke, the administrator, 36, from Taunton, Somerset, discovered her implants may have been leaking and paid £3,500 to have them removed at another private clinic after finding Harley Medical 'wasn’t interested'. She said: 'I got a letter this week saying Harley was going into administration. It said that was the end of my claim. I’m angry and gutted. All those weeks of worry and additional surgery was an awful experience. For the rest of my life, I’ll worry what it might have done to me. 'Harley was great when I was paying, but now that the firm isn’t getting money, it’s not interested.'
Let down: Kim Purser, 36, was part of the class action against Harley Medical Clinic, which fitted her PIP implants in 2009
Source: Daily Mail UK