E Jane Dickson: Fake breasts and public health – a perfect storm

The breasts muddle is just a snapshot of what we can expect with the Health Bill and its muddle of provision

Share
Related Topics

What is it about breasts that stop us thinking straight? We could go down the earnest Freudian route or we could cut to the wisdom of Hedy Lamarr. "Men," said the fabulously upholstered Hollywood siren, "have only two interests, money and breasts." Viewed in this light, the current political imbroglio over the financing of bigger breasts is pretty much the perfect storm.

This week, the Department of Health ruled that while the NHS will remove the dodgy PIP implants from patients who had their breasts enlarged privately, it will not provide replacement implants in the course of the same operation. The decision rests on the founding principle of the NHS that private and public medicine should remain separate. The fact that, for years, private procedures have been carried out in NHS hospitals rather knocks the stuffing out of the principle. But it remains the case that patients cannot usually have a pick'n'mix package of privately and publicly-funded treatment for the same condition, at the same time.

Some 35,000 privately-enhanced women, frustrated in their hopes of a one-stop re-fit, are joined in their criticism of the DoH ruling by the Commons Health Committee, chaired by former Conservative Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell. In a burst of chivalry Dorrell recommended that "we should start looking after the interest of the woman, rather than the small print of the rules". Putting women through unnecessary medical procedures, he went on, "is bad medicine". Meanwhile, enlarged and aggrieved women stare soulfully from the pages of every magazine sharing their personal fears, with no trace of irony, about "invasive and unnecessary operations".

Pressed as to why they elected to stuff their breasts with silicone in the first place, most revert to the mantra of the "empowered woman": "I did it for me."(And if this empowerment happens to chime with gonzo porn sensibilities, well, that's another matter.) I guess their reasons are more various than they appear – I suspect that in generations to come, the artificially-distended bosoms of the early 21st century will be an anthropological curiosity on a par with bound feet or stretched necks – and I dislike the "serves them right" vindictiveness served out on these women. Anger and frustration at the "can't pay, won't pay" attitude of the private health care providers responsible for the dodgy implants is entirely reasonable.

Nonetheless, "I did it for me" is not a compelling political reason to reinflate privately-purchased bosoms at the taxpayers' expense. Indeed, the presentation of such demands to a health service already stretched beyond capacity, borders on the obscene.

There are sound practical reasons for keeping private and public health provision separate. If privately-purchased implants were fitted as part of an NHS procedure and, in 10 years' time, the replacement implants were found to be faulty, who would pick up the tab for compensation? Sympathy and financial support is due to the small minority of PIP victims who have undergone reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy and now find themselves worrying about defective implants. Beyond that, I'd say it's a case of "let the buyer beware". And I mistrust the political animus whipped up by Dorrell and his colleagues against the NHS on a high-visibility issue which affects a relatively small proportion of the population.

Let's say that patients who have undergone private treatment on knees or hips – the choice of many in an era of NHS queues stretching to the end of doom – discover that they have been fitted with defective prostheses. Would the Government be so quick to cry "scandal" and insist the NHS does something about it, quick-smart? Would pictures of pained pensioners jutting their dicky hips at the camera be all over the press like a rash? I doubt it. But the words "breast" and "scandal" just fit so snugly together.

Meanwhile, the real public health scandal – the systematic dismantling of the NHS as we know it – proceeds on its stately course, with smooth talk of "improved choice and accountability". Interesting to note, too, that Spire Healthcare and BMI Hospitals, two of the major providers of PIP implants, were reported as being among the private companies consulting with David Cameron on his plans for a "devolved" health service.

The confusion over breast implants is just a snapshot of what we can expect with the new Health Bill and its muddle of private and public health provision. But it serves as a timely illustration. Do we really want "free-market" health, where in any sudden or systematic crisis, local authorities can act independently in offering remedies for "knock-down" prices? Can complicated issues of compliance and compensation, issues which, year on year, loom larger in public health, easily be resolved in Cameron's vision of "devolved" health care? If we're all to be buyers, we'd better all beware.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Arts Editor: The Great Character Actors of Football

David Lister
 

What I saw on the night my husband was hit by a car

Rebecca Armstrong
Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players