Thursday, 26 January 2012

PIP Implants- the future of the NHS?

Women who get boob jobs are a demographic it is hard to sympathise with. They are the vacuous, orange airheads the media encourages us to mock; why should they deserve our concern? When reports about faulty breast implants rupturing and leaking first made the news there was a feeling that since they’d already put themselves through one unnecessary operation, why should we feel bad they had to go through at least one more? Why should the taxpayer be concerned about a mess up in a private industry? It serves them right, the vain silly fools.

If you’re a woman and you don’t feel good enough, if you don’t like how you look; it is your responsibility do something about it. Luckily if you’re not sure where your body stands on the spectrum, just check any magazine cover, newspaper, television programme or Hollywood movie. If you are vain enough to take the entire western media at its word, believe the message it screams in the face of anyone glancing in its direction; that a better body will make you happier, then help is at hand. After all, the only people less deserving of our respect than vain women who get plastic surgery are fat women who let themselves go.

The cosmetic surgery industry makes £900 million in the UK every year and 90% of its customers are women. Last year 25,000 women had breast implants confident in the belief that they were empowering their lives and boosting their confidence. That is three times as many as ten years ago. And why not? You go girls!

We’ve been trained not to take breast implants very seriously. They’re advertised on the tube, you can get two for one offers, there are even ‘Yummy Mummy Deals’. Even if it is illegal to advertise prescription medicine, like say a strong cough medicine, a two hour operation which requires a general anaesthetic, serious painkillers to cope with pain and a lifetime of follow up surgery every ten years, is fine. Unlike medicine, implants do not have to go through rigorous testing. All they need are a CE mark of quality, the same rigorous testing applied to yoyos.

Do we honestly believe that the risks involved are explained? Who can the women rely on to give them the best advice? The private health care company which exist to make a profit and view the women as customers rather than patients? Will they get the truth from the media that trivialises the procedure and make millions advertising them? Or the government that washes it hands? Unlike most bodies there is very little regulation in this private healthcare success story. In the US there are 6 authorised skin fillers, in the UK there are 140. There is no registered qualification for a cosmetic surgeon. Many surgeons work in the private industry because they have not risen in the NHS and are attracted to a field with remarkably lower standards. They aren’t on the General Medical Council's specialist register, which means they are not good enough to perform surgeries independently in the NHS but are accepted there. If they so wanted, a vet with no other qualifications could set up their own Botox beauty clinic, injecting poison into people’s faces.

It is guessed that between forty to fifty thousand women in the UK have had pip implants breast implants, it’s hard to get a definite figure, because very few companies kept track. What is sure is the reason why they used PIPs implants: price. Medical grade silicone costs 35 euros a litre, the industrial silicone used in PIPs, also used in furniture, cost €5.

When reports of PIPs implants rupturing made the news and worried women tried to contact their surgeons, some discovered the companies no longer existed, others that they the companies had no record of what they had injected into them . The three biggest companies announced they will only remove the implants when they had actually ruptured, forcing the women to walk around with the knowledge cancer causing carcinogens might be slowing leaking into their body unless they are willing to pay another two thousand pound to have them removed.

Women who choose to have breast implants might well experience some regrets. They might feel a bit silly or unhappy with the job, but should they have to worry that the implants they paid surgeons to put in their body might rupture and kill them? – Or is that just part of the deal?

In 2000, after a similar problem with PIPS, 2,000 women successfully sued the company. They have still not received their money and the company were able to begin business again. The Health Minister stated that private health companies refusing to remove and replace the implants are "not stepping up to their responsibilities". Strong words, but then that is all the Health Minister of the United Kingdom can use; words. It is a private company so the Government has very little authority to intervene. With the Coalition recently promising that private health companies in the NHS will provide choice, transparency and competition, it’s beginning to feel like it’s the entire country the government is treating as silly fools.