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Tens of thousands of British patients with metal hip replacements could be at risk of being poisoned by them, it is feared.

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Last Updated: 7:58AM 29/01/2012

Medical regulators are drawing up new advice after taking “prompt action” to investigate safety concerns – but say the majority of people with the implants are “at low risk of developing any serious problems”.

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph showed more than 30,000 British patients have had the ‘metal-on-metal’ hip replacements – a metal ball that fits into a metal cup implanted into the pelvis.

Problems reportedly occur when friction between the ball and cup causes tiny metal filings to break off.

These filings can seep into the bloodstream and cause inflammation, which can destroy muscle and bone.

Advisers to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) say the devices could be causing “systemic toxicity” – effectively poisoning the body.

A spokesperson for the MHRA said: “On the evidence currently available, the majority of patients implanted with metal-on-metal hip replacements are at low risk of developing any serious problems.

“We are continuing to closely monitor all evidence. This needs more analysis before any conclusions can be drawn and further advice given.

“We have already taken prompt action to investigate safety concerns and have provided advice on patient management to relevant healthcare professionals.”

The metal-on-metal devices were introduced in the 1990s, when they were seen as offering better mobility than other materials.

They were withdrawn from the UK market in 2010 but a study by the British Hip Society found they had much higher failure rates than at first though.

Up to half of the implants fitted by a company called DePuy failed within the first six years.

With legal action pending for more than 1,000 people who say they have suffered as a result of the device being fitted, lawyers say some six figure pay-outs are likely.