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'NHS shouldn’t be safety net for irresponsible cosmetic clinics'


In the recent strong winds the large buddleia tree on our allotment was blown over. I have never “owned” a fallen tree before and, in a strange way, it rather affected me.

My knee-jerk response was: “How are we going to mend that?” On noting it was some way past mending, I wondered how I might move it – I’ll need a chainsaw and one of those face masks. And a check shirt. Probably a beard. Definitely a tool belt. And then I wondered if the fallen tree had had any impact on our neighbours, because that worried me.

As an aside, I have found myself wishing since that I had been there when it had fallen down. Ludicrous really. Gale-force winds of 70 mph and I say to my wife: “I’m going to wander over to the allotments to see if any trees fall over.” Mind you, she would have turned on Grand Designs, reached for the biscuits and told me to plant some onions while I was there.

But it feels to me that, although I may have been slightly bemused by the sight of my buddleia, my concern for the impact it may have had on my neighbours was appropriate. I did not have to feel responsibility for the gale-force wind and the tree uprooting in order to take responsibility for the impact it could potentially have had on other people. Responsibility is something that finds you – if you hide from it, you just look small and ridiculous.

Which inevitably leads us to the issue of breast implants and the reluctance of some private cosmetic clinics to replace the ones they accepted money to put in, despite the fact that they have since proved to be substandard. Their reason for reacting in this way? Well, they say they can’t afford it and that the responsibility for any potential problem lies with the regulators who said the implants were OK.

The idea that a company cannot do something they should because they might go out of business is a funny one, isn’t it? It’s like buying a new car and, on finding that it won’t stop when you want it to, you phone the showroom to complain only to be told: “We can’t put brakes in it now, brakes are expensive. We’d go out of business if we put brakes in. Anyway, you’ve already got air conditioning.” As for the instinctive search for regulatory blame, I can’t help but wonder whether that the sort of instinct – the one that protects profitability and liability above and beyond patient wellbeing – that brings private “healthcare” providers into disrepute.

It is telling I think that, once again, the NHS is expected to act as the safety net – not just for the anxious individuals who used these companies for cosmetic reasons alone, but also for the cosmetic industry and the “free market” that will take risks with health for cosmetic purposes, as well as the governments that want to encourage that free market and don’t want to be sued for poor regulatory practice.

It is interesting to note the multifarious ways in which an institution like the NHS doesn’t simply rescue, but actually enables. It almost mothers the political world and when the overly confident cosmetic surgery industry runs into trouble – like a frightened 15-year-old afraid of the consequences of his own bravado – it runs home to mummy, expecting her to make it all OK. Of course, if mummy is treated with some respect she can make it all OK but, instinctively and emotionally, don’t you just want someone on “mummy’s” behalf to have the gumption to say: “You got yourself into this mess, you should really get yourself out of it.”

Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.


Readers' comments (8)

  • I agree wholeheartedly. I wonder what would happen if it was legally challenged from a trading standards viewpoint? If you buy a Dyson from Comet and something falls off it, you take it back to Comet because this is who the contract is with. Surely it is the same with cosmetic surgery?

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  • Anita you have hit the nail on the head. To me it seems very clear that these women had a contract with the provider who put in the implants. Therefore the responsibility lies with that provider if something goes wrong. It is totally wrong for the NHS to have to spend money rectifying a mistake they didnt make.

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  • In the first instance the responsibility is with the provider and not with the NHS but the problem is if the provider won't rectify the problem the fact is that some of these women need treatment. in the event, of failure, it is the role of the NHS, under its current charter, to provide medical/surgical care to all in need and unconditionally! this is what the taxpayer pays for.

    'mercenary' seems to be the latest buzz word in the UK!

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  • Hoy mate wanna buy some cheap breast implants ? Doc you look like a gent who could do with some help in the implant department, know what I mean. On the lorry I have some top quality French gear, £10 each or a fiver each if you buy the lot. Just the job for yer actual pole dancer or porn actress and yer can lend them the dosh at 28% interest to have em put in. Win, win know what I mean guv. Oh yer the NHS, gawd bless em take em out before they go pop.

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  • The argument from the point of view of sales law could be quite a dangerous one. For example, if the contract the individual signed with the clinic basically said

    'you do this at your own risk. The devices is CE marked and will be properly inserted but there's always a chance of leakage and in that case you will have to seek further treament not covered by the initial expenditure'

    Then the sales law argument becomes very weak. You then have individuals who are becoming ill and who should be treated by the NHS.

    I suspect an argument from a moral viewpoint might be better founded.

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  • i do think these implants should be removed. They have' industrial' silicone in them which i bet the surgeons never mentioned to the unsuspecting, trusting patients. Where did any ethics feature? I think the NHS should remove them, if necessary. People who had them implanted made an uninformed choice, not an informed choice. I would hate to have them in me whilst the debate rolls on and if i could afford it would pay to have them removed but what if i can't afford to pay to have them removed. We can all make mistakes, it's unfortunate that all this has happened but i think as far as a 'compassionate' response to a woman in real distress we should remove them where the person does not have the means to pay to have them removed, on ethical grounds. The surgeons who implanted them should be sued and struck off.

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  • Anonymous | 30-Jan-2012 7:05 pm

    I don't think the surgeons knew about the substandard silicone. if they did they would not have used these implants. the problem was due to the dishonesty of the PIP manufacturers whose director gave orders to hide the materials and all the paperwork away when the inspectors visited the factory as they had received prior warning of this inspection.

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  • that's a relief then if the doctors didn't know.

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