Hundreds of users of Philips apnea devices have gone to court this week. They want to force that the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) release confidential documents about the controversial devices. This is confirmed by their counsel, Mark de Hek of SAP Personal Injury Lawyers. De Hek has been trying to get the documents since last year. “The more than six hundred users I assist, but also the 85,000 other users in the Netherlands, have a great interest in getting these documents quickly. People are worried, anxious and experience emotional problems. They want to know what is wrong with the device on which they depend and which is potentially life-threatening.” This concerns about 1,000 documents including research reports, risk analyzes and internal correspondence between Philips and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport about the ongoing problems. Research by NRC showed yesterday that the group had already been warned in 2016 that there were problems with the foam. It will then take another five years before Philips makes these problems public. Mark de Hek: “We want to know what the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport knew about these problems at Philips and especially: when.” Philips warned in June 2021 about problems with the apnea devices. Users of the affected devices are still uncertain about Philips’ ongoing investigations. They must provide information about the safety of the foam that may cause health problems, such as asthma, inflammatory reactions and cancer. De Hek: “A ministry that pretends to stand for public health and welfare should be more active in the fate of these people. It is sad that both Philips and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport have left these people out in the cold for over a year by not releasing these documents.” According to the apnea patients’ association, Philips pays too little attention to the patient. Maarten Brackel of the association, who is also an apnea patient: “The news often talks about the financial consequences for Philips, but what does that mean to the patient? The communication from Philips is far too meager. Patients want to get clear answers.” Philips, the patient association and suppliers have been working on a series of answers to common questions since August. Brackel: “As a result, patients will in any case soon receive the same answers, so that the parties involved no longer communicate past each other.” Philips is still replacing and repairing appliances. According to suppliers Vivisol and Mediq, 55 percent of the affected Philips devices have now been replaced. Mediq indicates that it receives information from Philips about the time of delivery “little”. The Mediq spokesperson: “Our customers say: I no longer trust the device, I just want to know when I get a new device.” Wim Meijer (73), mediator: ‘They hide behind each other’ ‘Based on my background, I tried for a long time to find a solution. That’s in my nature. Just start the conversation. With Philips of course, with the supplier and the health insurer. But they hide behind each other; no one takes responsibility. It’s extremely frustrating. “I don’t know if I have any complaints because of the foam, but that doesn’t really matter to me. Philips is liable for this situation. They are completely negligent and they do not communicate. “Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. I was so very tired all the time. More and more often I had to rest in the afternoon. In the car. At the office. During the day I couldn’t concentrate anymore because of fatigue. I led a team of 130 people. I eventually changed jobs. “My doctor said: you should never sleep without a ventilator again, that is life-threatening. Without a device, I run an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. I’ve probably already suffered minor brain damage from lack of oxygen during my sleep. For example, I can no longer read a book. I think that’s terrible. “I’ve been using this last device for six years now, and it’s quite a miracle device. I now have much more energy than without the device. I can exercise again and work full time. “I received a letter from the supplier last week. Within four to six weeks I will be called for an appointment. I hope we can finally get a new device.” Peter Sjabbens (50), instructor: ‘The fear is very great’ “Peter, you need to breathe!” – my wife often woke me up at night. Research showed that I have around 25 apneas per hour. You then stop breathing completely. In my case, those breathing stops lasted about thirty seconds to one and a half minutes. That is of course life-threatening. “Recently we were away for a weekend, my wife and I. Then the power went out at night in the hotel. Well, I really don’t dare to go to sleep without an apnea device. The fear of a heart attack is very great. I’ve been up all night. “I read on last year about the problems with Philips’ apnea devices. I haven’t heard anything from Philips myself. Finally, months later, I got a message from the supplier. “I have never seen black particles myself. I change the filter very often. And I’m rinsing it all out in hopes it helps. “The news about it does not make me happy. It goes into your system. Why aren’t all test results just shared with us? Who conducts the investigations? By Philips itself? Is this independent? Why can’t we know this? Carcinogenic or not, I just don’t have a choice. I can’t miss my device. I’m really not going to hand it in until I get a new device. “If I eventually get a new device from Philips, who can guarantee me that it is safe? I still have little faith in Philips. “I just don’t want to get too involved in it. But get some sleep and wake up healthy tomorrow? Well, no, I don’t know if I’ll stay healthy.” Philips: ‘We are doing everything we can’ Philips does not make any substantive statements about the ongoing investigation into the safety of the devices. The company does apologize for the “uncertainty” of patients. “We are doing everything we can to provide a solution for all patients as quickly as possible.” Philips has set up a telephone helpline, but it cannot provide information about the delivery of replacement devices “because home care providers make arrangements with patients when their device is replaced”. Photos Diewertje Bravenboer A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 21, 2022