Tits-Up for Private Healthcare?

The scandal surrounding the PIP silicon breast implants is a result of money taking precedence over patient welfare. Surely this should make us rethink the role of the private sector in healthcare?

(Sorry about the title, sometimes you just can’t help yourself)

The last couple of weeks, there have been two unrelated stories in the news. The first has been the tragic scandal around PIP breast implants, which are accused of rupturing and possibly causing cancer. This has rightfully caused a lot of public concern about whether peoples’ health was at risk. The second hasn’t caused quite so much of a buzz outside of political circles; Andrew Lansley’s plans to raise the amount of income NHS trusts can make from the private sector to 49%.

Like I said, these stories are unrelated, but as I’ve been mulling them over they’ve grown some very definite links in my mind. The thing is, they’re both related to the private sector’s involvement in the healthcare industry. In the PIP scandal, most of the operations were done privately, at private cosmetic clinics, rather than on the NHS. And as the risks (which are still unclear) have been investigated, Lansley has criticised the unwillingness of some clinics to cooperate.

You can hardly blame them, really. There’s a lot of money in breast implants. I imagine there will be a lot less if people think that they are in fact ticking time-bombs. The whole issue is one of money, which sadly seems to be taking precedence over the welfare of 40,000 – 50,000 British women. The French government have offered to pay for the suspect implants’ removal. Lansley has not.

The reason these implants are thought to be dangerous is because they used industrial-grade silicon, rather than medical-grade. You don’t need to be an industry expert to figure out the reason behind this- it was cheaper. PIP could make cheap implants, and sell them to private clinics, who could put them into the chests of women whose self-images have been destroyed by the media. And everyone- baring the unfortunate women now carrying the implants around- was rolling in the money.

And since the present government is all about the expansion of the private sector within the NHS, this should really be more of a concern. I’m not against the private sector at all, but there’s no escaping that it’s primary motivation is profit. Whilst usually this isn’t a problem, I have serious reservations about that being the driving force when it’s people’s suffering we’re talking about.

It’s still early days, but the presiding image of the PIP scandal at the moment is one of private companies cutting corners to make money, and ordinary women paying the price. Since I believe healthcare should be universal and a fundamental right (something I know not everyone will agree with me on), this gets my back up a little.

The private sector most certainly does have a role to play in the NHS. But what we seem to be seeing at the moment is a rapid expansion of its involvement, without any apparent concern. As things stand there is a strong possibility of the taxpayer (through the NHS) having to pick up the bill for fixing mistakes of private clinics- which isn’t wrong, as the NHS should be there for anyone and everyone when they need it, but it seems a unfair for the private clinics to make money off the dodgy implants and face no consequences.

My advice is basically caution. The hallmark of the Health and Social Care Bill has been haste, with little consideration for the risks of the changes it seeks to make. This has tripped the government up already several times, and they should take the hint, before widespread privatisation really does send the health service tits-up.