The Department of Health has awarded Pounds 250,000 to medical researchers at Leicester University to carry out a two-year investigation into the popular but costly hip replacement operation.
Around 40,000 hip replacement operations are performed each year. Yet reliable data about who performs them, success rates, short-term complications and associated cost implications is virtually non-existent. This is in striking contrast to many European countries, notably Sweden, where such information is readily accessible.
Paul Gregg, head of Leicester's department of orthopaedic surgery, said: "This lack of information is very unsatisfactory because it is not possible to project failure rates for hip replacement and the cost implications of further surgical intervention."
He also pointed to the "explosion" of unproven technical innovations in joint replacement - especially uncemented joint replacement - which make hips more costly yet have unknown long-term results and unproven benefits.
"If there are a lot of expensive hips apparently not doing any better than the cheaper ones, then that might have to be looked at," Professor Gregg said.
Historically, hip replacements have not been subject to the same stringent testing as drugs, although a European directive now stems the easy flow of new hips onto the market.
Professor Gregg described the new study as "a reassuring act for the Department of Health". The investigation team will survey the 1,800 people in the Trent region who were given hip replacements five years ago by a variety of surgeons in both teaching and general hospitals.
The patients, most of whom are arthritis sufferers, will be given a physical examination, an interview and an X-ray. Professor Gregg said he would be looking for "dissatisfied patients", those who are still experiencing the pain which the operation was supposed to eradicate.