By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - The British government said on Friday women with suspect breast implants made in France should not rush to have them removed, but hundreds of women were turning to lawyers with claims that the implants had damaged their health.
After days of anguish and anticipation, the French government recommended on Friday that tens of thousands of women in France seek removal of implants made of an unsuitable silicone gel by a firm that exported worldwide.
In Britain, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 women also have implants made by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which went bankrupt in 2010.
"Women with PIP implants should not be unduly worried. We have no evidence of a link to cancer or an increased risk of rupture," Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said on Friday.
"While we respect the French government's decision, no other country is taking similar steps because we currently have no evidence to support it.
"Because of this, and because removing these implants carries risk in itself, we are not advising routine removal of these implants," she said.
However, a senior cosmetic surgeon told Reuters that there were concerns in the profession over a high rupture rate.
"We are worried about the rupture risk because it is the rupture that brings the contents into direct contact with the body's tissues," said Kevin Hancock, a consultant plastic surgeon at the Liverpool Women's Hospital.
"We know that the contents were not what they were supposed to be. So in general we agree with the (French) decision to remove them," he said.
Hancock said the difference in advice from the French and British authorities would cause distress for British women who were already worried about the safety of their implants.
Hundreds of women from across Britain have started legal action, mostly against the private clinics that performed their breast enlargement operations, and the number of potential cases is rising fast.
Two law firms that were already seeking to mount class action suits on behalf of affected women said on Friday they had been swamped with inquiries over the past few days from women alarmed at the reports from France.
"The clinics are liable on the basis that they've provided a product which is of unsatisfactory quality," said Kevin Timms of the firm Garden House Solicitors, based in Hertford, just north of London.
"Generally one would want to sue the manufacturer directly...but PIP went into liquidation and they don't have adequate insurance to cover claims arising outside of France. We've had to look for an alternative means to seek justice for these women," he told Reuters.
Timms said the firm was acting for a group of 27 women seeking damages from 12 private clinics and one insurance firm. That suit was in the early stages of being processed through the High Court in London.
He did not have a precise figure but said many dozens of women had come forward with new claims in recent days.
Another law firm, Hugh James Solicitors, has been working on a class action suit on behalf of about 250 women for several weeks and is investigating claims put forward by a further 150 women.
"In addition to that, we've had about 100 new inquiries just in the last few days," said Esyllt Hughes, a solicitor at the firm, which is based in Cardiff, in Wales.
(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland and Keith Weir)