The politics of PIP breast implants and the NHS.

What a mess we seem to be in. We have 40,000 women with breast implants where the likelihood is that the rupture rate is greater than those women would have expected, and where the consequences of rupture or leakage are hard to know because the silicon inside them is non-clinical grade. The government is suggesting that the private sector have a moral responsibility to sort the problem out, and are offering NHS reconstructive patients both removal and replacement. As a backstop, they are saying they will remove implants for patients where private providers won’t do it. In any case, the government wants evidence before the NHS intervenes by women going to see their GPs, and where problems seem apparent, getting scans. The largest private provider, Harley Medical, are saying that they can’t afford to give patients even scans, never mind replacements.
The logic of public compassion would be for the NHS to offer all those women replacements. However, in itself, this doesn’t seem to be quite correct. If we take the cost of replacement surgery to be around £2,600 or so (according to the private sector anyway) that’s around £104M. That’s a lot of money, and we’d need to be sure that this is the best possible use of that money – including taking it away from funding other patients.
The logic of private consumerism suggests that what the women ought to do is form a class-action lawsuit against their providers and demand replacements. Consumer law appears to cover this – the implants were not fit for purpose. Harley Medical are saying that it is the government’s fault for allowing the implants to be sold in the UK, and so the government is morally responsible. Any lawsuit is likely to be long and drawn-out, and the women with the PIP implants are understandably anxious about their situation, both psychologically and physically, now.
I could go off on a rant at this point about how all of this is indicative of what’s likely to happen if the NHS Bill is passed and private provision is expanded further – the horror stories of private surgery going wrong and ambulances being called to take patients to NHS hospitals have been with us for years. However, I’ll try and stick to my topic.
How about a compromise answer here? I would suggest that the NHS ought to replace the implants, but that the government ought to sue the private providers for the cost of the operations. If the private providers go bust, so be it. I suspect some legal shenanigans will result where private companies try and either declare their cosmetic arms bankrupt or file for bankruptcy to reappear after a few days, but suggest that the government make clear it will withdraw licenses to practice if this happens. What we can’t have is a situation where the profits from practicing private medicine accrue to private owners, but the costs of cleaning up the mess fall to the public sector. Haven’t we had enough of that with the banks?

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One Response to “The politics of PIP breast implants and the NHS.”

  1. Patricia Farrington Says:

    Excellent advice. The government should take responsibility initially and approve NHS replacements for these women. Then the government should actively and publicly fight to get the cash back from these greedy private providers who focus primarily on money with little care for safety, in a lot of cases. As you rightly say, the NHS has had to clear up a large number of private medicine disasters when things go wrong and the private providers don’t have adequate resources to cope with emergencies.
    Unfortunately I am unable to trust this government to be open about their actions. Cameron will probably make a loud noise about rotten providers then quietly write off the NHS expenses so as to let private businesses continue offering poor service; because after all business is paramount to the Tories, isn’t it?

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