Sunday, January 15, 2012

The elephant in the clinic

Health secretary Andrew Lansley was on the Andrew Marr show today, accusing private clinics which inserted potentially faulty PIP breast implants of "not stepping up to their responsibilities" in removing them.

The egregious Lansley told Marr: "I'm not happy about private providers not stepping up to their responsibilities at all". He adds: "The argument that they somehow can't afford to do so begs the question of where was their insurance, where were they insuring themselves against their liabilities".

However, the health secretary admits that he has no powers to force the clinics to act, stating instead that: "There are clear legal obligations on the providers, as well as a moral obligation for the continuing care to their patients".

But what is completely missing from the discourse is any mention of the "elephant" – the fact that the breast implants carried the EU's CE marking, certifying their safety and performance.

As Booker thus remarks in his column, the clinics were entitled to rely on the marking and cannot be held liable for defects in their manufacture. The legal (and moral) responsibility lies with the manufacturers and the national authority – in this case the French government.

Such arrangements are not new – they are an intrinsic part of the EU's Single Market, and the best thing Lansley could do is pursue the French government, on behalf of the affected women, for appropriate compensation.

Instead, we learn that the government is continuing to pressure clinics to replace implants free of charge. But we are also in the mad situation that, if a private clinic refuses to do so or no longer exists, the NHS will also pay to remove, but not replace, those implants at public expense - if the woman's GP agrees and there is considered to be clinical need.

This is quite clearly a misuse of public money yet the media cannot bring itself to discuss this issue, or the EU involvement. Although the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph carry extensive stories on the implant drama, in common with the rest of the media, they are silent on the "elephant in the clinic".

We are, thus, entering a new dimension in public affairs where the government of the day will wrongly spend public money rather than highlight the EU in an unfavourable context, and the media close their eyes to this abuse.

These are sad and strange times.