The current scandal relating to PIP breast implants exposes an ugly side of cosmetic surgery as practised by some of the large cosmetic surgery groups in the UK. The details are still emerging but it appears that a few commercial organisations that made profits from implanting substandard breast implants (unknowingly) are now refusing to pay for the removal of these implants. Yesterday, a group of 60 women marched in protest in London. They began their protest at the headquarters of the Harley Medical Group, which installed some 13,900 PIP implants between September 2001 and March 2010.
Nearly 40,000 women in the UK have been fitted with these implants. In some cases, the companies involved have gone into liquidation, in others the companies are refusing to remove them or even replace them. So should the NHS pick up the bill? Well, in cases where these implants were fitted by the NHS, they will be removed and replaced by the NHS. But what will happen to private patients who paid for these implants to be fitted in private clinics?
An Ethical Approach
In my opinion, the cosmetic surgery companies and the surgeons that fitted these substandard implants have an ethical duty to look after their patients and they should remove them and replace them without charge even though at the time they were not aware that they were substandard. They should then seek to recover the financial losses from third parties. Their first concern should be wellbeing of their patients, both physical and psychological.
The facts are not fully in the public domain and I am not sure how this problem will be resolved. The French company that manufactured these implants and its directors may be subject to criminal charges for allegedly changing the outer skin of the breast implant and the grade of silicone in it after the implants had received a CE mark (from medical grade to industrial). In future, there may be tighter regulation of breast implants, spot checks and perhaps a national register of women who have had breast implants so that they can be followed for many years after their surgery. Also, breast implants may in future come with an insurance-based funding system as part of their cost to sort out long term problems as they become apparent.
I suspect the remedy for the present problem may involve lawyers and the courts. These women have paid for breast augmentation surgery and they have received implants which do not appear to be fit for purpose. The companies and doctors involved in fitting these implants have indemnity insurance and so these women may need to consider seeking a remedy in the courts.
What do you think?
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